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Most Disappointing Games of 2019

Astral Chain (PlatinumGames, Switch)

Astral Chain is another over-the-top action game from Platinum, the gimmick this time being that you're constantly chained to a "Legion" that moves and attacks independently for the most part.  This lends itself to some clever mechanics, like entangling enemies in the chain to immobilize them or catching a charging enemy with it to spring them backwards and stun them, and the visual style is downright impressive for the Switch.  Somehow, though, they forgot to make the game actually fun to play.  The controls, physics and action in the game are awkwardly slow and floaty, making the combat feel much more cumbersome than fun, and fights are separated by overlong, boring sequences of endlessly talking to NPCs and uninspired puzzles; ostensibly both are there to make you feel more like a futuristic policeman, but to me it just felt like a chore meant to pad out the game without actually doing anything interesting from a gameplay or storytelling perspective.  It's got style to spare, but without solid gameplay to back it up, it all amounts to naught.

Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes (Grasshopper Manufacture, Switch)

No More Heroes returns after skipping an entire generation (other than a little-promoted PS3 port of the first game), though frankly, maybe it shouldn't have bothered coming back.  The writing is enjoyably twisted as per series standards, but the uninspired gameplay quickly took me out of the experience.  Essentially a top-down beat-em-up where you fight hordes of generic enemies for upwards of an hour at a time, broken up only by the occasional un-fun minigame (run through a maze from a giant skull that instantly kills you if it makes contact!  Ooo!), it gets tedious very quickly.  Moreso because it has some rather glaring bugs that somehow never got caught during testing (like your character falling through the floor during a boss fight, leaving him unable to do anything other than take damage.  And no, restarting from a checkpoint didn't fix it).  Maybe it should have just been released as a downloadable visual novel instead, because if you're going to have a story broken up between hours of gameplay this uninspired and untested, why bother with it at all?

SolSeraph (ACE Team, PC/Switch/PS4/XBone)

SolSeraph won me over on what it promised - a spiritual successor to Actraiser that would add more depth to both its action and sim elements.  I suppose it did in some ways; the town-building is somewhat more involved now and actually operates somewhat more like a tower defense game, having you build up towers, barriers and emplacements and barracks to fend off invaders and eventually recapture terrain captured by evil forces.  Sadly, this element is disappointingly simple and shallow (more of anything is always better, and enemies have virtually no variation in their ranks or approach to your campfire), and even the side-scrolling segments are lackluster, feeling slow, clumsy and packed with cheap hits and sparse checkpoints just to drag things out even further.  Not to mention the game is just downright ugly, with graphics that look like a badly-upscaled Nintendo 64 game rather than a modern-gen gaming experience.  Stick to the classic Actraiser games and skip this turkey.

AI: The Somnium Files (Spike Chunsoft, PS4/PC/Switch)

Kotaro Uchikoshi is a name I've grown to love in recent years, and I consider his Zero Escape trilogy (999, Virtue's Last Reward and Zero Time Dilemma) some of the most finely-written visual novel/puzzle game experiences in all of gaming.  Sadly, AI: The Somnium Files, while it has an interesting premise, just falls flat in the end owing to its tedious dialog, padded setup and "dream puzzle" sequences that amount to little more than Roberta Williams-esque sessions of tedious trial and error.  Not to mention uniformly flat and dull acting from all involved.  There are some great visual novels from Spike Chunsoft, but this unfortunately isn't one.

Zanki Zero: Last Beginning (Lancarse/Spike Chunsoft, PS4, PC)

This one caught my eye just based on the premise, with several developers of the Danganronpa franchise working on a dungeon crawler.  In addition, the strange atmosphere and delightfully twisted mechanics (with characters repeatedly aging, dying and being cloned back to life throughout) made it a game that got me eager to see more.  Alas, after nearly twenty hours of generic dungeon crawling, near-constant inventory shuffling due to characters dying off quickly to traps and cheap hits and the overall boring and one-note combat (stay one step ahead of enemies, attack when they get close, move out of range again, repeat) made it an experience that got old too quickly for its own good.