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  1. 2 points
    As far as video games go, 2017 was one that was special in a way that’s next to impossible to replicate. The Switch launched with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and was followed throughout the year with a slew of high-quality releases ranging from Splatoon 2 to Super Mario Odyssey. The Yakuza series was reintroduced to the west with a bang in the form of Yakuza 0 and a high-quality remake of the original in Yakuza Kiwami. And there was plenty of RPG goodness across the board, from Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Persona 5 to my personal Game of the Year of 2017, Nier: Automata. The sheer quantity of incredible releases last year that may be remembered as generation-defining, if not some of the greatest video games ever made, would be hard for 2018 to top. And truthfully, this year never did hit the absolute highs of 2017 for me. That’s not to say that there weren’t plenty of great games this year, but none hit me with the impact of last year’s incredible slate. However, there were still a couple of incredible Yakuza games released this year, as well as a Fist of the North Star-themed Yakuza spin-off that’s still sitting in my backlog. So maybe some of last year’s magic still managed to rub off! Regardless of how quiet or not 2018’s march of releases was, I still had plenty to play, had plenty of fun, and on that subject, that’s all that really matters. 10) Fortnite Though Fortnite was released last year, I’m including it here at the tenth spot on my list because, like so many other people, there was a period of about two and a half months where it was literally the only game I played. Both on the PS4, and later the Switch, the Battle Royale game was one I just couldn’t put down, often ending late nights after just “one more game.” For the record, I was terrible. I only ever came in first place once, but it was through the semi-tactical fluke of managing to win a round without ever firing shot and letting the only remaining opponent get claimed by the encroaching storm. Truth be told, any experience I had with Fortnite after that oddity was a bonus. 9) Attack on Titan 2 Click here to read GP's official review The first of three Koei Tecmo games on this year’s list, Attack on Titan 2 really captured the feel of the anime, but with the twist of inserting the player into an original character slotted into the narrative’s existing events. In a year with an actual Spider-Man game (that I haven’t played yet), Attack on Titan 2 still satisfied that urge to swing through cities and forests with grace and ease. Now if Koei Tecmo would just consider localizing the Ruby Party Attack on Titan game. 8) Warriors Orochi 4 Warriors Orochi 4 was seen by a lot of Musou fans as something of a mea culpa from Koei Tecmo after the generally negative response to Dynasty Warriors 9. While it does introduce new mechanics involving magic and gave powered-up divine forms to select characters, the game doesn’t do much to rock the boat. And if you’re a Musou fan like I am, that’s fine, and it’s comforting, but it also left me with some mixed feelings for reasons that will become clear later down the list. That said, it’s a solid, fun continuation of one of the best Warriors series out there, even if it doesn’t feature the crazier crossover characters from last year’s Warriors All-Stars. 7) BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle Click here to read GP's official review Calling BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle a BlazBlue game is something of a misnomer. It is a BlazBlue game, but it’s also Persona 4 Arena, Under Night In-Birth, and… the Rooster Teeth animated series RWBY?! As crazy a mash-up as the game is in concept, it’s a frenetic fighting game of intense, fast-paced tag battle-style matches that can end in the blink of an eye. The game also holds a special place in my heart for serving as my introduction to competing at EVO. (I didn’t advance very far, but I didn’t go 0-2, either!) 6) Octopath Traveler Octopath Traveler is one of the more unique RPGs to come out of Square Enix in years. On the surface, it might strike people as a cousin to the divisive SaGa series, as it features eight playable characters, each with their own story and path through the game. Unlike the typical SaGa title, however, the gameplay is much easier to learn and understand, and all eight characters become part of the player’s party through natural play (but by no means is the game a cakewalk). Combine its gameplay and engaging characters with a visual style that feels like a pop-up book version of SNES-era RPGs, and it’s the sort of experience that’s right up my alley. 5) Soulcalibur VI Soulcalibur VI feels as much like a return to form as it does something new. After having so much fun and spending so many hours in Soulcalibur II, the third, fourth, and fifth games all had significant issues or gaps that left me wanting. It didn’t help that the guest characters the series brought in could never match the fun feeling of playing as Link from The Legend of Zelda, or even the goofy inclusion of Heihachi from the Tekken series. Soulcalibur VI in some ways takes a back to basics approach with its story, returning to the storyline of the first two titles and exploring it in depth with not one but two different story modes. The game mechanics feel sharp and polished, and the cast of classic characters has never looked better. Even the guest character, Geralt from the Witcher series, fits right in. And hey, 2B from Nier: Automata is joining the fray around the time that I’m writing this list up, so it’s only looking better as time goes on! 4) Dynasty Warriors 9 Click here to read GP's official review There’s no question that, to many, Dynasty Warriors 9 was a disappointment. The mechanical and systemic changes brought about by setting the game in an open world were bold experiments by Omega Force; the boldest shift taken by the series in many, many years. And the game launched with some technical flaws that required several patches to address, many of which were no doubt due to the game not getting enough time in the oven before it launched. And so I can understand where the disappointment comes from. But… I was never truly disappointed. While Dynasty Warriors 9 is flawed, I loved my time with it. I played it for over a hundred hours, and currently sit one trophy short of earning my first platinum trophy for any title I’ve played on a PlayStation console. I’m generally not a completionist by nature, but when I have more time, I’d like to go back and get that last one, because really and truly, I think Dynasty Warriors 9 is a lot of fun. In particular, the new combat system it introduces is a major step forward from the tried-and-true charge system that has existed in most Dynasty Warriors titles since the earliest entries. If anything, I would love to see more of this type of gameplay in a more refined entry, whether that be Dynasty Warriors 10, Samurai Warriors 5, or something else. But given the general response Dynasty Warriors 9 received, I won’t be surprised if Omega Force backtracks and makes more titles of the old form, like Warriors Orochi 4, for example. I’ll be disappointed, but not surprised. 3) Yakuza Kiwami 2 Click here to read GP's official review Like last year’s Yakuza Kiwami, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is another remake, this time of the second and last entry to grace the PlayStation 2. Built on the Dragon Engine originally developed for Yakuza 6, Kiwami 2 takes an already wild adventure and makes it even better. Punching man-eating tigers in the face has never looked so beautiful! While Yakuza 2 is often credited as the game where the series truly found its voice, Kiwami 2 refines the experience, adding more of what works, taking away a few things that don’t really work anymore, and as a bonus, tying in new sidestory elements to act as a direct sequel to Yakuza 0. Fans of the 80s-era prequel will absolutely love the callbacks, both goofy and heartfelt. 2) Yakuza 6: The Song of Life Click here to read GP's official review Billed as the game that ends the long and melodramatic tale of Kazuma Kiryu, Yakuza 6 contains everything that Yakuza fans love, from the action and drama to the more absurdist and comedic set pieces. If it truly lacks anything, such as meatier or more meaningful appearances from several fan-favorite characters, it’s only because the game’s plot is written with Kazuma and the now grown Haruka front and center. As the series has progressed, both star characters have grown older, and their arcs have taken them in some unexpected directions. But good things deserve to come to a proper end, and the Yakuza team elected to do just that. The game tells a story that ties a fitting bow around what has been a long journey for Haruka, and particularly for the lead character Kiryu. And that’s something that very, very few game series that have gone on for as long as Yakuza has can claim to have done as well. 1) Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Super Smash Bros. Ultimate really does feel in many ways like the ultimate Smash Bros. title. With a roster featuring every playable character that ever appeared across the previous entries, including third-parties, in addition to a few brand-new characters, the roster has something for most everyone. And though the size of that roster is the likely reason for why some traditional features aren’t present in Ultimate, like Home Run Contest or trophy collecting, the game has a host of deep, quality features that doesn’t make it feel slimmed down in any way. As someone that’s played Smash Bros. since the original N64 title, it’s fair for me to say that Ultimate may end up being my favorite entry. Not just due to the breadth of its gigantic roster that’s due to grow even further with coming DLC, but with the dev team’s reverence for the source materials that the roster comes from. Even the Spirit Battles, challenges themed after hundreds of characters from Nintendo’s past, as well as some special guests, are as creative and humorous as they are challenging. One battle I found particularly amusing cast three female Corrins with jetpacks as the Elite Beat Divas from Elite Beat Agents. The surprise in how these depictions are crafted, and how they translate specific references, make the battles as enticing as the actual challenge of fighting them. That the game’s Adventure Mode, World of Light, is entirely based around these Spirit Battles, makes for some of the best single-player content in any Smash Bros. game. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has everything it needs to keep me playing it well into the foreseeable future, both alone and with friends and strangers. And being packed with such quantity and quality, it’s easily my personal Game of the Year.
  2. 2 points
    Did anyone have any inkling of how good 2017 would be for video games before the year started? Even knowing full well that Breath of the Wild would likely be amazing, I think this year took most people by surprise. Honestly, we haven’t had a year full of titles this amazing since… 2011, at least. Or maybe even 2007 (Bioshock, Portal, Super Mario Galaxy). Heck, some would argue 1998 (Ocarina of Time, Metal Gear Solid, Half-Life). There was something for everyone this year, and arguably even too much of it. 2018 will be a busy year for sure; not only will we be playing all of the newest releases, we’ll be using whatever free time is left to catch up on our backlog of amazing games from 2017. Seriously. With that said, let’s take a look at the titles that surprised and delighted me the most this year. Honorable Mention Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy True story: The debut of Katrielle Layton – the famous Professor Hershel Layton’s daughter – is probably the least best (I dare not say ‘worst’) entry in the Layton series to date. This is because the story takes an episodic approach, the puzzles are fairly easy, most cases are generally non-consequential in nature, and many of the mysteries’ answers are telegraphed before completing them. And yet, none of that really mattered by the time the final scene aired. Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy is easily the most charming game I’ve played all year long. The new cast, along with the supporting characters you come to know are what really make the game special in the end. With everything happening in the real world this year, I just wanted to disappear into Layton’s positive and whimsical take on London, following the adventures of Katrielle, Ernest, and their dog ‘Sherl’ as they crack case after case. Not all of the cases are winners, but there are a few that are incredibly touching and make the game worth playing in the end. 10. Metroid: Samus Returns The Metroid series returned with a bang this year, first with the announcement of Metroid Prime 4 being in development and then with the surprise announcement and subsequent release of Metroid: Samus Returns – the long-awaited remake of the Game Boy-only Metroid II: Return of Samus. While it doesn’t do a lot to propel the series forward in a gameplay sense, this is true, classic, 2D Metroid gameplay at its finest. Featuring revamped controls that give you more flexibility and a new melee dodge attack that can parry enemies when timed right, Samus Returns adds just enough to improve the old experience while totally overhauling most of the outdated level design and mechanics of the original game. The encounters with different Metroid evolutions are some of the best moments in the game, adding a real and rare sense of threat and danger to what has usually been a more atmospheric, exploratory game. Also, there just might be a new addition or two to the game’s story to shake things up in the same way Metroid Zero Mission did nearly a decade and a half ago. 9. Cosmic Star Heroine I’d been aware of Zeboyd Games’ previous titles (Cthulhu Save the World, Breath of Death VII etc.), but they’d never appealed to me until Cosmic Star Heroine released this year. Zeboyd Games created perhaps the best homage to both Chrono Trigger and Phantasy Star that I’ve seen yet with Cosmic Star Heroine. The battles wisely move away from the “select strongest attack until your MP is depleted” approach and instead injects more strategy by way of introducing cooldowns for each attack and focusing on when you should use them. The story is interesting and well done, if a bit cliched, and moves at a brisk pace, even if it’s somewhat lacking in the character-building department. Cosmic Star Heroine’s universe is also pretty fascinating; Zeboyd did an excellent job of designing a wide variety of alien creatures and strange worlds, not to mention its eclectic cast of characters. Also, the music is a pretty rad take on ‘80s and ‘90s sci-fi soundtracks (think Babylon 5). 8. World to the West Rain Games is a developer that has been on my radar ever since I played their excellent Metroidvania title Teslagrad from a few years back. Their brilliant, hand-painted visuals combined with thought-provoking puzzles made me super enthused for their next title, World to the West. Set in the same world as Teslagrad, World to the West eschews the 2D platforming of its predecessor and opts for an isometric Zelda-like approach. The result is a game with great, cartoon-like visuals; an interesting story set one generation after the former game and which focuses on four unique characters who come from significantly different backgrounds, and action-puzzle gameplay that splits the focus between said four characters’ special abilities. It’s one of the few games I’ve played in which the world is cleverly designed so that you’ll need to use all four characters to explore and open it up with each one's own skills. 7. SteamWorld Dig 2 The first SteamWorld Dig was an excellent surprise hit when it released a few years back, so I was both super excited and hesitant at the thought of SteamWorld Dig 2. Why? I didn’t know what developer Image & Form would be able to do that would keep it from feeling like a complete rehash. Luckily for us, Image & Form saw this issue coming, and they did something smart. They cast Dot -- a minor character from the first game -- as the protagonist in this one and created a whole new mystery: What happened to Rusty, the original protagonist? The truth of the matter will take you through twists and turns, and it’s pulled off incredibly well. New items and machine parts help differentiate the core gameplay cycle, which is the same as the first game’s but with a more interesting world and better-designed caverns to navigate and solve. Excellent gameplay aside, what really made an impact on me with SteamWorld Dig 2 is how the plot plays with your expectations, and completely shatters them in the end. 6. Sonic Mania When it was first announced, I wasn’t that interested in Sonic Mania. It had been some time since I’d last played a 2D Sonic title, and the prospect of “going back” to the old classic style just didn’t seem like progress to me. Little did I know that it’s exactly what the series needed, especially since the newer games have grown creatively stagnant over the last decade (or two). Sonic Mania injects just enough retro levels to keep it from feeling like a “best hits collection” and wisely introduces remixed versions of old levels along with entirely new ones that stand up with the very best the series has to offer. It manages to nail that feeling where it plays like you imagined it played way back when, but in reality is so much better than what Sonic 1 had to offer. Topped off with a brilliant soundtrack, Sonic Mania is what I consider to be the best Sonic game to date. I did not expect to be as blown away by it as I currently am. Welcome back, Sonic. Stick around for a while. 5. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia Shadows of Valentia proves that Intelligent Systems is only getting better at making Fire Emblem games, and I was thrilled to discover just how good it was. Being a remake of the NES-only Fire Emblem Gaiden, the second game in the series which never made it out of Japan, Shadows of Valentia stays true to its retro roots by keeping the different battle rules from the original game (no weapons triangle, magic depletes health, etc.) while adding brand new elements in the way of third-person dungeon crawling and exploring different areas of towns and forts. While the latter addition isn’t always used to great effect, it’s fun to finally control a Fire Emblem character firsthand and helps to break up the pace between battles. Ultimately, Shadows of Valentia offers a surprisingly strong story (which is equally surprisingly dark in certain moments) that tackles themes of classism, war, and sacrifice – culminating in a grand finale that pays off in a big way at the very end. Fire Emblem has rarely been as good as Echoes gets, and I hope to see most of the new systems and mechanics used here in the new Fire Emblem title for Switch next year. 4. Splatoon 2 There was a point this year, perhaps around August or September, where I was certain Splatoon 2 would be my game of the year, if not for three other incredible games (one of which I had to do some more reflecting back on). With over 265 hours invested, Splatoon 2 is by far my most-played game of the year and the one I had the most fun with on a consistent basis. Some would say it’s not really a sequel; that it’s a 1.5 version of the game. Even if that’s true, it’s heads and shoulders above the first game, with a solid, diverse grouping of Ranked match games, tons of new hairstyles, weapons, specials, and ways to modify your character. And let’s not forget about Salmon Run, the new horde mode that might just be “mode of the year”. I’ve spent countless hours taking out Salmonids, collecting golden eggs, and having a general blast with @barrel, @Rissake, @YukiKairi, @Venom, and others. No other game has given me that “just one more game feeling” quite like Splatoon 2 has, and that’s a testament to just how good it is. 3. Super Mario Odyssey If you know me, you might be surprised to see this game “only” placing third on my list. That’s mainly because this was an exceptional year with amazing games, but don’t let the lack of GOTY status fool you. This is a Mario title we haven’t seen in quite some time, and boy did it feel good to be running around and exploring each level at your own pace. Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 had moments of this, even if they were still largely linear affairs, but Odyssey’s wide open levels were so out of the norm for the past 15 years that they actually recalled elements of this year’s Breath of the Wild. What I appreciated most about Odyssey is that it really does feel like Mario is embarking on a great journey. Nintendo’s Tokyo studio also spared no effort to make every level feel as unique and original as possible, getting away from the standard lava world, ice world, and jungle world. Instead, you’ll find a level based on New York City, a food-based world, a desert world with ice-elements and an underground temple, and a forest with a tower that’s occupied by robots, just to name a few. It’s super imaginative, not to mention super inspired, due to the cap-throwing mechanic where you can capture and control different enemies. Due to all this and more (that soundtrack!), Super Mario Odyssey is far and away the most creative game I’ve played this year. 2. Horizon Zero Dawn Horizon Zero Dawn is far and away the biggest surprise of 2017 for me. It always looked fantastic in previews, but I didn’t realize just how much I would fall down the rabbit hole with it until I played it late this year. First off, it’s the most graphically impressive game I’ve played in 2017; stunning vistas, vast gorges, tree-lined forests, and populated towns and civilizations – it has it all. It also has the best narrative I’ve experienced all year; Aloy’s journey from shunned outcast to legendary warrior in the eyes of the people is an experience I’ll not forget, and there’s a deep amount of lore to the world, not to mention the many mysteries behind the plot are all well-thought out and have satisfying answers to them. What really puts the game over the top for me is how good its machine-hunting combat is. At first, it’s incredibly daunting and seems complex (and really, it is), but after you learn the intricacies of how to hunt each machine (especially the large ones), the game really takes off. There are so many ways you can take them down, from using a rope gun to tie them down to disable them to setting traps, tripwires, and shooting off weapons, modules, and weak spots with your arrows. Each encounter is incredibly dynamic and life-like, with each machine actually mimicking and behaving like the natural animal/creature it’s designed after. It’s a thrilling experience every time you’re involved in a hunt with larger machines because the danger feels incredibly real for Aloy, and it makes each victory all the sweeter when you eventually do take them down. Horizon was a powerful experience for me -- one of those rare games that completely drown out real life and make you invested in the world within, and one I'll not forget anytime soon. 1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Breath of the Wild is a game that many Zelda fans have been waiting a long time for. While I wasn’t one of the ones hankering for a return to Zelda 1 mechanics (the go-anywhere approach), I’ll never forget the feeling of being dropped in this massive world and being in awe at how much there is to do and see. I’ve heard many ask what Breath of the Wild does for open worlds that is so amazing. The answer has to do with interactivity – the world in BotW is so intricate in how you can interact with it and how it reacts to what you do. Horizon and other games have worlds that are impressive in size and scope, but there’s little you can do to it except traverse it and interact with specially designed areas and characters. In BotW, you can climb nearly everything, decide how you want to approach a certain location, chop trees down to cross large ravines, set grass on fire and then ride the updraft the smoke creates, move almost any object that’s not attached to the ground with magnetism, and much more. In short, the world is alive, and never has a title for a game been more appropriate. The plot itself, while not my favorite of the series, is still fairly good, and the individual story arcs and moments are well-done; especially those that involve the four champions. I also really enjoyed the Divine Beasts; even though we didn’t get traditional dungeons, these were fairly close in approximation them, and one of the Divine Beasts might just be one of my top 10 dungeons in the whole series. In the end, Breath of the Wild will be remembered for letting players play the way they want to. There are definitely things that can be improved, but by and large, this is a landmark title that broke barriers and will shape games for years to come.
  3. 2 points
    2017 has been quite the year for us gamers. Not only did Nintendo release the insanely successful Switch, but there have been a lot of quality games released as well, on Switch and just about anything that plays games. Even mobile devices have seen a few really fun games. But with so many quality titles coming out left and right, it was actually pretty overwhelming, and I simply couldn’t keep up. So, since there are still plenty of games I haven’t gotten around to playing yet, I’ve decided to make a less traditional Game of the Year list. Sort of like an award show, if you will. Anyway, enough stalling. Let’s get to it already… Most Addicting Mobile Game Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp I normally don’t put mobile games on my Game of the Year lists, but Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp felt deserving of that honor. It’s a simple mobile game, yet it has the same level of quality you would find in an official game released on Nintendo’s own consoles. And just like when Animal Crossing: New Leaf was first released, I just… can't seem to go a day without playing it at least a little… Best Spiritual Successor to Banjo-Kazooie Yooka-Laylee I’ve been a huge fan of the Banjo-Kazooie games since the day I played the original for the first time. So, when I heard that several members of the original team got together to create a sort of spiritual successor to the series (since, you know, new Rare doesn’t really seem to care much for the IP), you better believe I was excited. And I gotta say, Yooka-Laylee is pretty much exactly what I hoped it would be. I mean, it does have its fair share of flaws, but it’s still a really fun platformer for fans of the Banjo-Kazooie series (well, the first two, anyway), and it definitely satisfied my itch. Of course, Grant Kirkhope’s amazing soundtrack certainly helps. I still have a bit of an itch, though, so hopefully, Playtonic announces Tooka-Laylee soon enough… Best RPG I Still Need to Beat Xenoblade Chronicles 2 I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out. I may not have beaten Xenoblade Chronicles 2 yet, but I’ve definitely played enough to think it’s a really damn good game. Which is awesome, because the original was my favorite game of 2012 and it’s cool to see that the numbered sequel (Xenoblade Chronicles X was more of a spinoff, I guess) is also top-notch. It’s a great RPG with a beautiful world, an engrossing story, and an amazing soundtrack. Really, what more could you want? Most Terrifying Game I've Played All Year Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (VR) Oh man, this game. After all the complaints about the Resident Evil series seemingly forgetting its horror roots in favor of more cinematic gameplay, Capcom did an amazing job giving us an entry that was scary. And Resident Evil 7 is scary as hell. And not only is it a terrifying game in its own right; when you don the PlayStation VR headset? I lost count of how many heart attacks I had during my playthrough… Most Splatastic Shooter Splatoon 2 If you’ve played the first Splatoon, you’ll pretty much know what to expect from Splatoon 2. Not that that’s a bad thing by any means. The original Splatoon is an amazing game, and Splatoon 2 is basically a better version with more features and …probably more people playing, or at least soon enough since the Switch is selling like hotcakes (I still don’t know why that’s a saying). So, don’t you even worry if you haven’t played the original; if you have a Switch, get this game. It’s fun. Biggest Nostalgia Overload Sonic Mania Click here to read GP's official review It’s crazy how satisfied I was with Sonic Mania. Sonic 3 & Knuckles was always up there for me as one of my favorite games ever, so a game so incredibly similar, with stages not only from that particular game, but from other classic Sonic adventures, and with some original levels to boot, is exactly what I needed in my life. You can read my detailed thoughts in my review, but just know that this game is now up there right alongside Sonic 3 & Knuckles as one of my favorite games ever. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, isn’t it? Game I Didn't Expect to Be So Good Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle Like many people, I didn’t know how to feel when a Mario and Rabbids crossover was leaked. I just never really liked Rabbids. I always thought they were a little too annoying for my taste. But I felt hopeful once I actually saw what kind of game Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was. And when I actually played it for myself, I was way more satisfied than I thought I would be. It’s insanely fun, and it even made me hate Rabbids a lot less. Seriously, it’s fantastic. Of course, Grant Kirkhope’s amazing soundtrack certainly helps. Wait, why do I feel déjà vu…? Best Game You Should Not Let Your Kids Play South Park: The Fractured but Whole I’ve been a fan of South Park since I was a child, even though I wasn’t supposed to be (so feel free to disregard this entry’s heading). I also enjoyed the games growing up, even though they weren’t exactly top-notch. But man, when South Park: The Stick of Truth came out, I was impressed by how much it seemed like I was playing the show. Not only that, but it was a really great game in general. And now we have a sequel in South Park: The Fractured but Whole (giggle). Which, wouldn’t you know it, is also a really great game. It has a different gameplay style to fit with the superhero theme, which I actually had a lot of fun with, and the humor is just as funny as you would expect. If you like the show, there really isn’t any reason you wouldn’t enjoy this game. Most Fun Globe-Trotting Adventure Super Mario Odyssey Ever since I was a kid, I’ve enjoyed just about every Mario game immensely. So, I never feel like I’ll ever be disappointed when a new one comes out. And one thing I love is when a Mario game demolishes my expectations. Super Mario Odyssey is one such game. I knew I’d end up having a lot of fun with it, but once I played the game myself, I was blown away by how good it is. Super Mario Odyssey basically takes everything I love about the series, adds a brand-new mechanic, and gives me one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had. Seriously, I can think of so few negative things to say about this game, it’s crazy. Best Game of 2017 (That I've Played) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Of all the games I’ve played this year, you’d think it would have been tough narrowing down which game I felt deserved the honor of my favorite game of 2017. But to be honest, it really wasn’t. I mean, it was kind of hard not choosing Super Mario Odyssey, since I had so much fun with it, but in the end, I just had to go with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. As the series’ first foray into the open world realm, Nintendo did an amazing job. Seriously, there were so many times when I meant to go to a specific place but ended up either getting lost or just getting distracted by a cool place I haven’t seen before. Or I’d find a shrine and feel obligated to check it out. Honestly, even though the series changed quite a bit from what we’re used to, I firmly believe that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a perfect example of what it means to be an “adventure game,” and a very fitting evolution of the original The Legend of Zelda adventure.
  4. 1 point
    Much of 2018 has been a blur for me. It could be because of some bizarre shifts in my personal life but in a gaming context, I keep forgetting which titles even came out this year. If anything, I have been attempting to catch up on some leftover standouts like Horizon: Zero Dawn or even Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle despite how proud I am of my 2017 GOTY list choices otherwise. But to focus on that would certainly do a disservice to the many great video games that dropped in 2018, and while the overall lineup is not quite as impressive as 2017's there are absolutely more than a few releases that I am honored to have had the chance to check out amid a somewhat hectic personal schedule. So, without further ado, here are my personal favorite games of 2018. 10) TimeSpinner With such an influx of 2D Metroidvania titles lately it is easy for me to shrug off the act of playing even the best of them due to sheer quantity (sorry Hollow Knight, but you did get my money at least.). However, of the games that released in 2018, TimeSpinner was one that gathered a bit of a cult following among my Twitter feed. So, sure enough, I eventually picked it up to finally learn why. For as unapologetic as its Castlevania: Symphony of the Night influences may be there is something that is indeed special about its finely tuned mechanics, nifty time control ability, and progressive story themes that has it not only ooze charm but kept having me come back for more. 9) DJMax Respect I have always held the DJMax series on a pedestal amongst rhythm games. From burying many hours into PSP imports like DJMax: Black Square/Clazziquai to a port of the touchscreen-focused arcade game, DJMax: Technika Tune (which I reviewed), there is a finesse the series has always had, from slick menus to intrinsic rhythmic gameplay feedback that very few rival in the genre. Even the creator's own Superbeat: Xonic did not quite succeed in recapturing DJMax's former appeal after a long (mobile-centric) hiatus. Still, as a last hurrah for lingering fans, they decided to make one final entry called DJMax Respect. And frankly, the game is fantastic and is pretty much all I wanted from the series. I may not be nearly as good at playing DJMax as I used to be but I eagerly look forward to slowly closing the skill gap, or at least trying, with the many, many songs at disposal. 8) Octopath Traveler Octopath Traveler is a vivid example in my mind of just how being in the right mood for a game could radically change your opinion of it. Honestly speaking, I did not think that time would arise at all after feeling indifferent about both the demo(s) and thinking it was only more Bravely Default. Turns out, I just needed to wait a couple months for the hype to die down and be in a different head space. It is hardly the second coming of Japanese RPGs, but Octopath is still a great example nonetheless if you like your SaGa styled gameplay quick and Final Fantasy job systems, which I do. With a nostalgic art direction, likable characters, stellar musical score, and rewarding combat system help make Octopath Traveler stand out despite the unreasonably lofty initial expectations placed upon it. 7) Muv-Luv Alternative 2018 was a strange year for me and visual novels. Comparatively, I did not play as many of them as I did last year, but the ones I did play were exhaustive in terms barrier of entry, like the three-part Muv-Luv trilogy. I may have some mixed thoughts on the original two games, but there is a clear reason why the final entry called Muv-Luv Alternative is so beloved aside from obvious signs made by the incredibly successful 2015 kickstarter. To immensely grim (seriously, I can't stress this enough) but very compelling sci-fi storytelling to really impressive character development Muv-Luv Alternative is a worthy finale that answers many burning questions just as much as it tugs at (/brutally destroy) heartstrings. 6) Super Smash Bros Ultimate Cute Zelda Redesign. Uh, I mean, 2018 had no shortage of noteworthy fighters from Dragon Ball FighterZ, Soul Calibur VI or Blazblue Cross Tag Battle and yet the one I have been most charmed by was Super Smash Bros Ultimate. Featuring a far more appetizing single-player approach than its predecessor, it is easy to get lost in modes such as World of Light, Spirits, or even Classic to the very fun additions to the cast like Richter Belmont, Inkling, Incineroar, King K Rool that are overflowing with reverence towards the source material (and some not, like Ridley.). It is clear this game has a long life ahead of it (if the Persona 5 Joker tease is any indicator). Plus, with the smart changes it has made for the competitive scene, in particular, I am just as eager to see the thoughtfully crafted video game fanservice during singleplayer as much as I will be taking on would-be challengers in multiplayer both online/locally with my adorable (and more competitively viable) Zelda. 5) Divinity Original Sin 2: Definitive Edition The ONLY reason why this game isn’t higher on my list is because I played so much of its predecessor just before it (yet another reason why 2018 is a blur for me). And because of that, I could easily guess how much time would be required for me to do a complete playthrough... A ton. Still, for the twenty or so hours that I've already played, I am quite impressed by how much it improved upon its predecessor from highly nuanced world-building, sharp writing, immensely robust character customization, general voice acting, strategic combat system and so on and so forth. It is an amazing game and it is a shame it does not get nearly as much love as it deserves from fellow console players. 4) Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age It has been such a long wait for not only another console mainline Dragon Quest title, but also the English release of Dragon Quest XI. And it has absolutely been worth the wait. Dragon Quest XI may be one of the most traditional Japanese RPGs around but it is truly a showcase example of it from the grand main adventure, lovable primary cast of characters, gorgeous aesthetic, spirited voice work, and rock solid turn-based gameplay fundamentals. 3) Monster Hunter World I never would have I thought that I’d get into a Monster Hunter game. Ever. And I have attempted to play many of them and easily bounced off of each and every one of them -- except Monster Hunter World. They did it. They made a Monster Hunter game that humans can finally enjoy and also not destroy their hands with a claw grip. Monster Hunter World streamlines a lot of the series longstanding issues from controls, interface, progression and pretty much all for the better. I may have thoroughly burned myself out on the endgame content (or lack thereof), but I'd be lying if I didn't say that the hundreds of hours I spent helping friends or bettering my own character/hunting skills were a mostly wonderful time. I look forward to eventually playing that much more when the IceBorne expansion releases, and to party up once again with a team of capable and charismatic hunters. Also, GUNLANCE4LIFE. 2) Dead Cells Click here to read GP's official review I am sometimes a very simple individual when it comes to my enjoyment of games. For as many story-heavy titles as I tend to prefer sometimes, all I need in a game is something that just feels good to play. That is pretty much what Dead Cells is all about -- impeccable control, challenging gameplay, and deeply satisfying combat. After many runs and sleepless nights due to sheer addiction, and even a few very narrowly earned completions on higher difficulties, Dead Cells is simply an excellent game that has somewhat ruined me for both Roguelikes and Metroidvanias that do not play nearly as well as it ...which is pretty much all of them. 1) Valkyria Chronicles 4 Click here to read GP's official review Plainly speaking, the first Valkyria Chronicles on PS3 was more or less my favorite game of last generation. I already have a strong thing for turn-based tactical games and to see such an inspired, beautiful take on the subgenre absolutely blew my mind at the time. But, after poor sales, the series just kind of died out beyond some admirable but not nearly as good handheld entries (and a recent spin-off best left unmentioned...). To finally get my hands on a truly faithful console sequel in Valkyria Chronicles 4 was downright emotional for me from start to finish. Not only because the game itself is stellar, but because after replaying the original title earlier this year, the fourth main entry somehow managed to surpass it in my eyes as a game. Everything from the more mature storytelling/dynamic lead cast, wildly varied objective design, smart tweaks to the combat system, endearing squad stories missions, and, of course, rewarding tactical gameplay did more than enough to win me over as my favorite game of 2018. Heck, I recently bought the Switch version just so I can have an excuse to play the game from scratch once more.
  5. 1 point
    I’ve taken some time off from writing to wander the earth for a bit, but I’m back — however briefly. Most of what stood out to me this year actually... came out before 2018. I’ve played through every localized Ace Attorney romp for the first time, and I’ve stuck with Animal Crossing: New Leaf for 63 hours and growing after years of avoidance. I bought and 100%ed the underrated Sonic Colors DS, when the wait for Sonic Mania Plus was killing me. The Switch port of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker was my first time playing that, and I adored it. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze...not so much. And don’t get me started on Hollow Knight. That's one I can only really recommend to the hardest of the hardcore of the exploration-based platformer & Dark Souls people. If you make it past the fifty hour mark and don’t put it down, you’re more grizzled and patient than I am. Despite spending more time in the past, often against my better judgment, I managed to play ten 2018 games that I’ve decided are worth your time and attention. There are plenty of others that I really dig, but didn’t quite make the cut... like Detective Pikachu and WarioWare: Gold. I kind of wanted to throw Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on the list, too, but I’m not sure where I’d put it just yet. I haven’t been this figuratively glued to Smash since around 1999 on Nintendo 64, when I was a kid & this was all new to me. The Spirit Board and World of Light both make for near-endless replay value, I managed to unlock the full roster in just one weekend — it’s been pretty fantastic. But will I still feel fantastic about it a month from now? You get it. Still — no matter what this list says, or what I decide to leave on the cutting room floor, my real Game of the Year for 2018 is Ace Attorney Trilogy on Nintendo 3DS. 10) Part-Time UFO This is the first time I’ve ever felt compelled to put something exclusive to mobile platforms on a list like this. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that HAL Laboratory is responsible. Much like when Game Freak deviates from Pokémon, I like to see the folks at HAL venture outside of Dream Land to create a series like BOXBOY, and now this. As with most phone-exclusive contemporaries: the concept is easy to pick up, difficult to master. Your cute lil UFO friend (who looks suspiciously similar to a certain UFO sprite from Kirby’s Adventure on NES) is just looking for an honest day’s work. He earns his keep by using crane-based mechanics to put cargo on a truck, meticulously place pillars and a roof on a building according to its design… you know — catch fish while avoiding explosives or eels, arrange cheerleaders in a pyramid, make sure a circus elephant can balance five different animals of all shapes and sizes. The usual stuff! Does one “Platinum” something like this? If yes, this is the first time I’ve done so. All twenty-five achievements are mine to boast about! Now I’m totally certified to head to Japan and play one of those gashapon/UFO crane machines in the real world, right? I love the little touches sprinkled about as you’re completing each job. When you’re on a farm putting stuff in the truck...for this old guy that thinks you’re just some misguided youth... farmhands and animals cheer you on in a colorful backdrop. The girl that knocks over a museum totem pole that you’ve got to rearrange for her starts out crying, gets happier as you go along...and tenses up, bracing herself if you’ve arranged the totems in such a way that they might fall over again. The controls are concise enough that I was able to pull off extra-challenging maneuvers associated with the achievements, without frustration or throwing my phone against the wall. If the Nintendo Badge Arcade had crane controls as air-tight as these, the Arcade Bunny would go out of business. It’s truly the most fun $3.99’s gotten me in years. There’s the usual cute costumes and catchy tunes. It’s better than BOXBOY, to me... with a full-color spectrum and a lesser price, to boot. 9) Yoku’s Island Express The philosophy of most Metroid-likes is to explore some forgotten, isolating place... while cutting down or shooting up anything that gets in your way. You’ll eventually double-jump, earn a grappling device of some kind to reach higher places, and maybe learn to fly. While there’s plenty of outstanding variations on this formula, it’s all pretty samey if you break it down to the fundamentals. Enter Yoku’s Island Express — the road less traveled. It’s the kind of experience I’m describing, but... pinball is your primary means of getting (pretty peacefully) from Point A to Point B. I’m used to seeing pinball articulated as a single-screen, arcadey score-attack, where the point is to just stay alive for as long as possible. With Yoku, it’s not so much about racking up combos and hitting the right places. You've just gotta skilfully smack your lil dung beetle dude to a hard-to-reach area where you’re exploring using the flipper and some precise timing. Nothing’s ever too difficult or punishing; if you fall into “the pit”, as it were, it's just a little loss of (otherwise plentiful) in-game currency, which is used to buy upgrades or access to fast travel. I guess soft, fluffy, ultimately predictable games kind of dominate my list this year. It’s almost like I’m trying to escape a harsh reality. But seriously — Yoku’s world is filled with a ton of cute, interesting characters to meet... and deliver mail to! You’re the island’s (woefully underpaid) pinball postal service beetle. It struck a unique chord with me by making a genuine attempt to subvert expectations of an entire genre through pinball, even if it wasn’t always successful. While contemporaries of games like Hollow Knight and Dead Cells are plentiful in both the past and the modern era, Yoku’s best comparisons are just chilling in 1989. 8) Monster Boy & the Cursed Kingdom If you even moderately enjoyed Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap when it was remade last year, this one needs to be on your proverbial radar. It doesn’t share the same developers, or even name (thanks, trademark disputes)... but it’s Wonder Boy V, for all intents and purposes. The “Monster Boy” can transform into five different critters by his journey’s end, and each lends a unique hand to the q-like exploration series veterans and new fans should come to expect. The pig transformation acts as a mage, with access to different spells like fire and lightning. You can uncover secrets by literally sniffing them out. The snake shoots venom at foes, and it can scale mossy walls to reach new heights. The frog can breathe underwater and use his tongue like a grappling hook. While it’s very tropey and somewhat predictable overall, it feels exactly like a modern Wonder Boy should — almost to a fault. Before I get too critical, let’s heap some praise: This is the part where I flail about excitedly screaming, “LOOK HOW CUTE IT IS??” The level of detail here is apparent just by looking at various screenshots, like the one above, but how lively the world felt in motion honestly took me by surprise. There’s real depth to Jin and other characters’ animations that have only been met by games with zillion dollar budgets, or contemporaries like Owlboy. The locations & various bits of plot are very referential to other games in the series, too! It helps firmly cement this as an officially licensed sequel. And, gosh, having your soundtrack arranged by folks like Yuzo Koshiro, Motoi Sakuraba, and Michiru Yamane is like the perfect marinade for a very meaty experience. As with a lot of meat, though, I feel like Monster Boy may have been a better experience if it trimmed some fat. The difficulty spike in the early part of the adventure, as the pig, is not really the most welcoming sentiment. Things get progressively easier in the opening hours, rather than tougher! I totally understand how the pig is meant to be comparatively weak to most of the other transformations in the game. But I feel like just one too many evil-looking clouds have an affinity for bacon. A few of the later dungeons or quests tend to drag on just a bit longer than I feel they should, too. Still had a ton of fun overall — but the biggest contrast between Monster Boy and the rest of the series is its length, compared to the others’ briskness. For all I know, someone reading this might consider that to its credit, though. More power (and transformations!) to you. 7) GRIS Every moment you’re absorbed in this one is visually stunning. I seriously haven’t ever spammed the screenshot capture button on my Switch this much. GRIS tells an extremely surrealist, interpretive story of a girl in mourning... by destroying someone she cares about, draining the color from her world and robbing her of her voice. In the opening minutes, you truly feel the weight of her grief — you’re only allowed to stumble forward at first, then slowly move. Eventually, you stride...and your goal of restoring Gris and her world to their former, vibrant selves becomes clearer. Both mechanically and narratively, the experience is very light. The story is told with no words; there’s very little text on the screen besides achievements as they happen and little mementos as they’re discovered. The practically peerless (especially on Switch) visuals and outstanding soundtrack are the primary means of conveying a much darker, more threatening message than Journey — the one all your friends will probably fight themselves not to compare this to. Where ThatGameCompany tells the hero’s journey through listless exploring with the help of other strangers... Gris’s escape from grief feels very isolating and melancholic at its core. The friends you do meet are treated and remembered fondly, but they’re ultimately few and far between. The experience is so light, it almost feels like a short film. Gris regains sensibilities and abilities as color is gradually restored to her world. But it's all very brief. Level design is easily understood, never frustrating, and almost wholly linear. Honestly, this is in stark contrast to the nature of grief. Still: even if I saw the credits the same day I bought it, doing so brought me to tears. There’s very little you can do with a narrative that’s largely metaphorical. But the beauty of seeing someone in mourning find the strength to overcome it isn’t lost on me. Even if the story beats and levels are more interpretive than blatant, every last one is impactful. 6) Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu I have no Individual Values-related excuse to strike Pokémon from my list this year, so here we are. Let’s Go Pikachu is honestly proof that what makes this hobby enjoyable for me comes down to so much more than interesting mechanics. Truly... this is like "baby’s first Pokémon." The Master Trainers you can battle with after the credits roll are certainly difficult in comparison to everything else. But the whole shebang is easy like Sunday morning. Despite being considerably more experienced than its intended audience... and pretty averse to mandatory motion controlled throwing when not in Handheld Mode... I still thoroughly enjoyed my latest romp through Kanto. Your partner Pokémon is what keeps the magic going for me, really. At one point when I was playing with her, my Pikachu put out her paw & I high-fived it. Then she did the same with the other paw. After a few boops, she exclaimed with bursts of hearts and glee. This is exactly what I wanted Let’s Go to be. It’s less about a simplified Pokémon experience... and more about a lively Kanto that puts even HeartGold’s level of detail & polish to shame. Ditching random encounters is probably the best thing to happen to the series. The soundtrack is ultra-nostalgic. Being able to soar through the air freely, and interact with individual critters from other trainers just littered throughout the map — these are all nice touches. They went out of their way to make your Partner Pikachu or Eevee stand far out from the crowd with moves like Splishy Splash and (the meta-game-changing) Sparkly Swirl. There was little more than this ambiance and caring for my Pokémon propelling me to the credits. Now, I’m raising my hard-fought-for mythical friend, and engaging in Catch Combos to go for them Shiny Pokémon. But, even as “the post-game experience” is kind of winding down for me... I still poke my lil Pikachu when she chills on my shoulder in Handheld Mode, or talk to Mew or Melmetal when they walk behind me. It’s the little things that matter to me, and they always will. 5) Celeste It’s one thing to create a competent Super Meat Boy-esque experience, where each room is a tough platforming challenge that you’re meant to chip away at (until, inevitably, many get bored with not being good enough and move on before seeing the end). It’s another to respect your entire potential audience enough to create a wealth of Assist Options that can be turned off and on at any time. You can lower the speed of stuff around you by up to 50%, to make that tightly-timed jump as leisurely as you need it to be. You can make it so your grip on walls, that’s normally limited, is infinite. Want to be able to jump/dash twice, or infinitely, instead of just once? Go for it. Want to make yourself invincible so you never have to deal with any harmful obstacles in your way? The sky's the limit. Celeste isn’t just a cute game about a strawberry-loving lady climbing a mountain and conquering inner-demons. You're given the freedom to customize the trials & tribulations of said mountain to your personal liking or ability. I wouldn’t have had the patience to finish this one without Assist Mode. Using it didn’t make the experience any less impactful for me! I still got to meet everyone in Madeline’s corner, get a bit extracurricular, and hear my favorite soundtrack of 2018 in all of its proper context. If I’m being honest, Lena Raine is probably my favorite composer in the past five years. When it comes to most of what I put on these lists each time I'm asked to, I’ll sometimes buy a t-shirt, a poster, or something. But gosh, in this case, I’ve collected soundtracks. There’s a B-Sides album, a Prescription for Sleep album, and more. I went on to play her interactive novel, and was delighted to see her show up on the “guest compilation album” of something a little further on up this list, too. She even covered DELTARUNE music recently! Celeste features wonderfully drawn art, a very personal narrative, skillful level design, customizable mechanics, and music I still listen to eleven months later. Is there even more to look forward to? 4) Kirby: Star Allies My endless, emphatic wishing for HAL to bring back Kirby’s animal friends is well-documented. And during the Nintendo Direct on March 8th, it...finally came true (y’all should’ve seen my Twitter mentions). Here’s how I break this down: If Kirby: Planet Robobot is a celebration of everything Kirby is, then Star Allies is a celebration of everything his friends are. There are 37 friendly friends of the titular marshmallow maestro — ten of which are never-before-or-certainly-not-recently-playable characters from Kirby’s entire history, like Marx from Kirby Super Star, Susie from Robobot, and... yes indeed, Rick & Kine & Coo. It would’ve been enough, for me, to just create these Dream Friends that lovingly celebrate the games they came from... with moves, icons, and victory themes that almost feel like they belong in Super Smash Bros. But each “wave” brought several new Celebration Pictures, what now totals to well over 300 music tracks, art pieces after the credits, specific skits that play while you’re sitting idle on the title or file select screens, and even more bells & whistles. I really could go on forever. In the “Guest Star Mode”, Dream Friends have specific portions of their campaign that feature recreated levels from their games of origin. They even threw in a brand new mode in the latest update that cranks an otherwise leisurely difficulty overall to “the Dark Souls of Kirby”. I’ll see myself out for that one. It’s just... kept me coming back for brand new stuff, again and again. Spacing out each free update like they did made sure I spent a handful of hours with it every few months this year. At this point, there’s so much extra content that it’s hard not to recommend to anyone. Even if you have no idea where some of the special characters come from, they’re still super powerful and fun to play as. I’d love to see a longer, more varied & complex Story Mode in the next game...that actually worked all these wonderful characters into the plot. It just wouldn’t be Kirby if I didn’t keep on dreaming. 3) The Messenger I could write volumes on how masterfully The Messenger controls alone. Making sure a shuriken-throwing, wall-climbing, slowly gliding, water-walking, grapple & sliding ninja feels like you’re freaking cloud-hopping definitely isn’t easy. The folks at Sabotage didn’t just create something that feels a whole lot like you’re playing Ninja Gaiden or Shinobi III — they surpassed them. Handily. I haven’t been this giddy about a platforming game since Shovel Knight. This is my Axiom Verge for 2018 — the one I’ll never shut up about, the one I’ll be hyperbolic about and call “a revolutionary new paradigm.” There’s a shopkeeper that shares witty anecdotes each time you see him in a level. I knew these characters were going to be something special when I wanted to hear the random fables this guy in blue robes would share only slightly more than I cared about actually advancing the plot. Past a certain point, he stops with the stories because you’ve seen a whole lot of what the game has to offer. Then, very close to the end, dude came back with an extremely personal tale that almost made me tear up. And I’m not even talking about the plot. The way every piece, part and random one note of The Messenger messes with the fourth wall, the confines of levels and player exploration, and making all the places you visit feel connected is nothing short of brilliant. I’m pretty well-traveled in the genre, and I can’t think of any peers when it comes to how the proverbial scroll unfolds, mechanically — with much probably hidden behind SPOILER tags. Sabotage released a New Game+ & quality of life update just a few weeks ago. You’ve got to beat the final boss again to unlock the meatiest part of it, so I went back... after two months or so of completely shelving my thoughts & honed “ninja instincts”. To my delight, nothing atrophied over that time. I saw the credits roll again, began New Game+ with all my amassed skills, new moves and equipment, and just... spent a little while completely mowing down the first few levels, that gave me trouble when I first started. So few video games feel like riding a bike, figuratively. This one does. I can’t wait to see the wild picnic they’ve got planned next! 2) Dragon Quest XI They did it, everyone — it’s the polar opposite of Dragon Quest VII. The last time a Dragon Quest title was on my list, it was a niche choice at best... hard to recommend to anyone except the die-hards and the most patient of players. This time — I can scream and shout for everyone to buy and play and enjoy! I’ve even converted people. Here’s the lowdown: it’s still very “old school” at heart. But its closest peer released this year, Octopath Traveler, is much more grindy, difficult, and demanding. DQXI is a very breezily-paced, relaxing RPG from the start until the credits roll, assuming you don’t pick the Draconian Quest option (built specifically for North American folks who scoff at everything breezy). The story works like any game in the series: perhaps it’s a bit slow to start, but once you gather everyone together... it’s a gift that keeps on giving. I mean that — the plot goes places that no other Dragon Quest dares tread... that few other video games dare tread. There are more than a handful of moments where you’ll fan yourself if you’re the emotional type. I’m immeasurably biased when it comes to these blinky Dragon Quest bouts... but there are multiple outlets that sing the narrative’s praises. It feels good to not be alone like I was with VII. When it comes to mechanics, visual presentation, and narrative interest... this is the most streamlined Dragon Quest there’s ever been. It’s like critical darling Dragon Quest VIII, but twice as refined and three hundred fifty-six times as interesting. I’m still sad places outside Japan didn’t get to experience the “3DS demake version” but... gosh. I don’t even feel hyperbolic saying “this is the best Dragon Quest ever made.” It dethrones V as my personal favorite, and that’s not something I say lightly. The only real drawback is its soundtrack. It really is terrible, to me (plus a lot of others)... and a sure sign Sugiyama should probably make his exit. The best possible Dragon Quest would’ve seemed like a shoe-in for my number one choice, right? Well... the only thing better than a new peak for my favorite series...is the underdog I picked up on a whim & never saw coming. 1) Wandersong A video game hasn’t reached out to me and offered a big ole bear hug, like this one, since Undertale. And Wandersong doesn’t have a “Genocide route”. This is a wholly pacifistic tale about a side character... that the world in peril actually has no dramatic role for. The lil bard guy wants to do his part to save everyone... by learning the mysterious Earthsong. His quest takes him to every corner of his world, and there are plenty of happy adventures to be had... as well as knowledge to glean about why the world wound up this way. Tearaway feels like a comparable peer to the warm, fuzzy vibe this tale emanates. While Media Molecule focuses heavily on player creation to deliver its ultimately charismatic message, Wandersong is (as its name might suggest) focused on literally bringing harmony to the player, and the world they’re influencing as the bard. When you’re not singing to solve dilemmas of the people you meet, you’re belting your own melodies for one reason or another — whether it’s to work through innocuous, abstract jumping puzzles, or just because you can. This story is really meant for everyone: you can’t mess up without immediately being able to try again, you’re never scolded for being off-key, and there are a myriad of accessible indicators to make sure you’re always doing the right thing at the right time, when you want to. You spend your entire journey tirelessly defending things that most other contemporaries would have you cut down. You’re always looking for ways to de-escalate situations, give peace a chance. And while it doesn’t work out sometimes... nobody in this world ever tries like the bard and his friends. He’s no hero, by definition. He just makes everything better by being happy at it. I called my lil bard guy “Plea”, because I couldn’t name him after me. Wandersong genuinely feels like a plea for kindness and empathy. It’s the most Jonathan thing I played this year, and is definitely in the running for “possibly ever”.
  6. 1 point
    Developer: Sega/Media Vision Publisher: Sega Platform: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC Release Date: July 10, 2018 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game The phrase "Shining" holds a very different connotation in the gaming space depending on who you ask. Ask an old school RPG fan what it means to them and they would likely mention its previous, tactical role-playing game form of the beloved Shining Force titles. If you were to ask developer Sega themselves, they would likely phrase it in a way that could be just about anything resembling an RPG, especially given the many games they have churned out under its banner. That said, the Shining series has most often shifted toward a more typical action-RPG template in Japan these past couple decades. Though it may be an enhanced release of a formerly Japanese-exclusive PlayStation 3 title, Shining Resonance Refrain should radiate as a curious new direction for the series after a long absence from English speakers specifically. Above nearly all else, Shining Resonance Refrain takes a keen interest in both dragons and music while very rarely separating either element. Everything from the usage of musical armaments (...called "Armonics") to the main character, Yuma, who bears the latent power of a powerful dragon, play pivotal roles in the overarching narrative. That said, ultimately, the story itself rarely boils down to being more than a handful of good guys fighting against an evil empire despite however much jargon it tries to throw at the player like "Diva Magica" or many phrases straight out of Norse mythology. The main story remains predictable to a fault and can be rather hokey in more than a few instances because of it. Gameplay-wise, Shining Resonance: Refrain takes more than a few notes from its action-RPG contemporaries (such as Namco's Tales of- series) but with a couple of minor twists. You have your real-time combat system in which normal attacks use a stamina gauge and it quickly becomes encouraged to use special MP skills right before one runs out of stamina to maintain a constant offense. To not so subtlety chime a reminder of the musical setup, there is also a BPM gauge that steadily builds up mid-battle which will provide a variety of buffs upon use depending on the song. Admittedly, battles are rather button-mashy, and quickly become routine, but are also easy to get into. The game also does a decent job at making each party member feel unique, such as the ranged grenadier, Marion, who can use support spells, and even the main character, Yuma, who quickly goes from using a standard longsword to transforming into the Shining Dragon mid-battle. There are more than a few battle system foibles than the simplicity of it, however. Some are amusing like the main character becoming overpowered to the point of trivializing most other attackers by literally only needing to mash the circle button from the halfway point and on. Less amusing, however, are the frequent slowdown for flashier spells and, what can be even more annoying, the sleepy ally AI especially in regards to healing/suicidal positioning. Unlike the frequent slowdown hiccups, thankfully some of the AI problems can get straightened out over time if one messes with 'traits' within the Bond Diagram mechanic, which affects AI tendencies like their increased inclination towards using healing or buffs/debuffs mid-fight. In sharp contrast to their unreliable combat usage, one of the surprising strengths of Shining Resonance Refrain's main playable cast is their likability in a story context. One the most obvious ways to see this is within the primary town, which features numerous interpersonal scenes as well as the opportunity to go on dates with party members (yes, guys included). It is clear that these affinity systems were mostly developed with the pretty lady characters in mind but the actual implementation comes across as far more wholesome than one would expect. In addition, there is a pretty earnest friendship that develops between everyone, and not just Yuma despite, well, the story having more than a few over-the-top anime antics moments in-between. Perhaps the biggest problem with the entire game (yes, even more than the very cliched main story) are the huge discrepancies caused by the level-up progression. Main story bosses spike in level at an absurd rate each chapter, and the means of gaining the experience to close the gap in a reasonable amount of time is quite limited. I had to go out of my way to look into items that made it so inactive party members would gain experience, and to increase the rate of seeing the in-game equivalent to Dragon Quest's Metal Slimes (called eggs) in specific, randomly generated Grimoire dungeons, because the experience obtained from normal enemies in regular environments was way too low (... just like in Dragon Quest). In spite of such glaring gameplay flaws, Shining Resonance Refrain still somehow manages to be better than the sum of its parts in charm alone. One of the key ways it does is in the sharp localization which makes an often predictable script somehow still entertaining to read, especially regarding character specific scenes in the central town. The underlying care also transfers to the audio, like how the instrumentation of BPM songs will change based on which character performs it; a nice touch to an already good soundtrack. Heck, even the English dub is solid as well, though I admit I gravitated towards the Japanese voices due to some top-notch talent and it having a more natural transition towards the Japanese-only vocal songs. Shining Resonance Resonance is one of those strange titles that is significantly flawed in both its gameplay progression and main storytelling yet manages to stumble onto the path of being enjoyable regardless. Its key flaws are quite difficult to ignore, especially if one has a low tolerance towards cliche storytelling (which it is dense with), and it requires a willingness to accept the genre stereotypes it so frequently leans on to see a more sincere, lighthearted underside. If one wants an easy to approach action-RPG that is as charming as it is predictable, Shining Resonance Refrain is a solid option. But those expecting anything deeper in their RPG experience would be much better served looking elsewhere than it. Pros + Easy to approach combat system that manages to make each playable character feel distinct + Likable main cast of characters with surprisingly wholesome vibe between them + Pleasant aesthetic from the sharp soundtrack to well-realized character models Cons - Very predictable storytelling that can be quite hokey with its anime tropes - Balancing party experience becomes cumbersome due to huge enemy level spikes between each main story chapter -Occasional slowdown and dumb ally AI unfortunately bog down combat - A bit too much backtracking between zones Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Shining Resonance Refrain does very little to veer from the course of many Japanese RPG stereotypes but for those willing to accept its often predictable nature can still find an earnest hidden charm underneath it all Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  7. 1 point
    This past year was easily one of the worst in my entire life. Without even going into the hellscape that is the current political climate I was also forced to deal with many far more personal concerns that made sure my mental fortitude was being only kept intact by the narrowest string at times. Irrespective of the time or seasons that the hardships of life decided to unfurl before me, 2017 in gaming brightly illuminated even amongst the darkest moments of my life. If anything, it's one of the very few things that kept me sane with reasoning to look forward to each new day. Maybe that intro was a bit too much of a downer, but what I am trying to say is that if 2017 was not such a strong year for gaming I would very likely still be in a terrible mental state. People have been arguing that 2017 is on the level of being on the caliber of 1998 in gaming -- and I'd be inclined to agree with them for the most part. You may notice a recurring theme as my 2017 list goes on where I'm actually putting a bigger emphasis on storytelling than gameplay like I would normally in previous years. Because there is no shortage of excellent games with great gameplay in 2017, the ones that also hit an emotional focal point through either their storytelling or writing were more likely to click with me. Without further ado, here are my personal favorite games of 2017. 10) Super Mario Odyssey Super Mario Odyssey is probably the closest thing in my mind to 3D platforming perfection. Masterful controls, top-notch level design, a constant satisfying loop with collectibles, a dapper-looking Bowser, and even the catchy "Jump Up, Super Star!" theme is sung by none other than the seemingly long-forgotten Pauline. Perhaps the biggest criticism I could truly level against Mario Odyssey is that it simply did not stick in my memory quite as much as other games this year after the initial credits rolled despite how much I enjoyed playing it in the heat of the moment. 9) Nier Automata Like most Yoko Taro games I find myself strongly respecting but am also equally frustrated at what Nier Automata attempts to achieve. Part of that was the unfair expectation was thinking it'd be a Platinum game with a Nier touch. And let me tell ya, I LOVE Platinum character-action games (Bayonetta 2 <3). What I got, however, was a Nier game with a Platinum touch, which conceives of all of the bizarre, yet fascinating quirks of a Yoko Taro game without the shoe-string budget and generally terrible gameplay he was known to be saddled with back at Square-Enix (*cough* the entire Drakengard series *cough*). Because of this, I was fighting between conflicting emotions of it not quite grabbing me as the storytelling/cast of characters in the original Nier did, nor the gameplay of Platinum in their prime. But like any game by the eccentric director, it likes to play upon expectations over time. Everything from a Metal Gear Solid 2-styled mantle pass, phenomenal dynamic soundtrack, twisted storytelling, and a highly evocative ending sequence that could only be executed within the medium of video games made the whole experience better than the sum of its clunky parts for myself. 8) Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn continues to be far and away the best thing bearing the Final Fantasy name in nearly a decade. Unlike the prior expansion that is more noteworthy for its storytelling, Stormblood is generally more impressive for its dramatic gameplay overhaul (not to say the story isn't compelling in Stormblood, though). Apparently, all it took was the noble sacrifice of the PS3 version. In which case I'll just say: why didn't they just throw the PS3 version into the sun earlier? [says this as someone who played FFXIV on PS3 for nearly 2 years] While I hardly consider myself a hardcore player I was more than swept into the fires of war that is Stormblood for months. With a campaign that is better than most RPGs this year (I've played a lot of RPGs this year), it features exciting bosses, creative dungeons, an English story localization that nearly rivals the quality of FFXII, two incredibly fun new classes, and entirely revamped gameplay mechanics that also happened to give my precious Astrologian class lovely buffs to help bring the Ala Mhigan war effort that much closer to home. To justify my occasionally dangerous addiction that much further I even made some new friends in real life during the course of playing it as well. All of this was almost enough to make people like myself forget the nightmare that was the early access launch. Almost... 7) The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky The 3rd I would've been perfectly okay if Trails in the Sky simply ended with the second entry. I mean, the extremely endearing Estelle Bright had her story arc pretty thoroughly resolved by the end of the Trails in the Sky SC after all. Still, despite initially coming off as a somewhat unnecessary fanservice game, Trails in the Sky: The 3rd tugged at my heartstrings in many surprising ways. I grew to greatly appreciate the distinctly different yet engrossing new lead cast members (Kevin especially) and radically changed-up gameplay structure present in The 3rd. It played the gamut of emotions from giving beloved supporting characters a stronger foundation/resolution, to also revealing deeply unsettling parts of ones you didn't know quite as well as you thought you did, all up until its tear-worthy conclusion that eventually wormed its way overall into being my favorite game in the would-be trilogy. 6) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild It's tempting to make the obvious play on the title like: "The newest Legend of Zelda was a breath of fresh air!" or something like that. But... that's just it. Breath of the Wild truly was a fresh contrast for not only the series becoming notoriously stagnant with its formulaic design but open world games at large. In a year where I dipped my toes into games such as Horizon: Zero Dawn or Assassin's Creed: Origins, I learned that I wasn't actually totally done with the entire open world subgenre, but rather ones that refused to challenge their gameplay norm. So, apparently, I was just bored of open world games not made by Nintendo, I guess. Breath of the Wild brought back a sense of genuine wonderment to not only the once decaying series but its homogenized modern open world contemporaries. It successfully evoked the sense of mystique during exploration and respected the player's own ability at discovering unorthodox solutions at nearly every turn we haven't seen since basically the very first Zelda game. I may not adore every facet of its design, such as weapon degradation, but I could not be more pleased with how Nintendo (of all companies) deliberately chose to be so fascinatingly different in a time where every other company tried to stay the course with open world games. 5) Night in the Woods It seems to me that Night in the Woods is highly likely to resonate with a very specific age demographic than others. As it turns out, I happen to be one of them within that age group. So I saw more than a bit of myself in Mae and her group of friends with their day to day troubles even if they were all animal... people... that stood on two feet. Shelving the existential animal question for now, both the writing and characters really struck a chord with me. The fact that I also happened to unintentionally play the game mostly concurrent with the late October themed narrative helped it be that much more immersive. Admittedly there are some elements that don't entirely ring with me in the game; predominately the weird psychedelic/supernatural elements that seep their way into what should've otherwise felt like a surprisingly grounded main narrative. But the moments where it felt so very human made me forgive such shortcomings the game had... even though they were technically animals. 4) Yakuza 0 Click here to read GP's official review The Yakuza series has always been one I liked much more conceptually than actually playing. Well, until Yakuza 0 that is. Turns out all they needed was a playable Majima!.. in a game that wasn't Yakuza Dead Souls. But seriously, I extolled the many virtues of Yakuza 0 through the course of my review. But the cliff notes version of my fondness for it had a lot to do with how expertly it balanced very serious, engaging storytelling and hilarious (though, occasionally heartwarming), as well as insanely abundant, side content complemented by the expert localization. Most impressive of all is that it is a prequel that retroactively makes all of its predecessors better by the reverence it pays to them as well as being the best game in the series. 3) Xenoblade Chronicles 2 There have been a lot of knee-jerk reactions towards Xenoblade Chronicles 2 in it simply existing. Some justified, some not. What I will say is that even though Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is likely the least cohesive game in the entire series, it is also far and away the one that I had the most fun actually playing. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 may not be the game that I myself and many others expected, but it was also one I did not know I wanted as much as I did. For as many technical rough spots and unnecessary anime fanservice/trope moments it presents at the forefront, I was also blown by just how much heart and depth it had buried beneath for both its gameplay systems and storytelling. It has been a while since I felt like a game so regularly went "And here's one more cool new thing!" via some gameplay mechanic or an exciting story beat. Couple it further with a masterful soundtrack, an impeccable world design, very rewarding battle system, and a surprisingly endearing main cast made my expansive journey and my absurd current playtime within more than worth it (...100+ hours). I am certainly looking forward to the additions to it via various updates in 2018, such as the added story content too. 2) Persona 5 As someone who would easily put Persona 3 & 4 high in the bracket of my all-time favorite video games, to say that I was hungry for Persona 5's eventual release would be a major understatement. Turns out that "Winter 2014" was much further away than anyone had imagined. So impatient was I to finally play it that I literally bought the game two times just because I could not wait an extra day for my limited edition to arrive via mail. Even though I was frothing at the mouth to finally play it I would say my expectations were actually pretty reasonable for what P5 actually ended up being. I wanted a game to NOT just feel like Persona 4 all over again by assuming a strong identity of its own and, of course, improve upon many enjoyable gameplay systems of prior entries. And it did just that. Actually, it did MUCH more than that. Persona 5 challenges much of the fundamental ideology of its two predecessors from the relationship dynamic between characters to the dark underpinnings of its storytelling, causing it to be rather divisive amongst fans on that front alone. It is also the most Shin Megami Tensei-y the series has felt since the original two Persona games (...technically, three.) with the return of demons, negotiation mechanics, and an oddly high default difficulty. On that pretense, I had a blast playing Persona 5. Its countless quality of life improvements to an already addictive RPG/school life formula, some insane late game narrative twists, jazzy soundtrack, and basically being the most stylish video game in existence (with people still swooning over its UI) more than solidified its place in my mind. It may not be my favorite Persona game (that honor goes to Persona 4 Golden), and I certainly have a criticism or two against specific story elements, but it didn't need to be for me to consider it an amazing RPG experience. 1) Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth Click here to read GP's official review Ever have that one game in which you adore but also can't really recommend it to anyone? Yet, at the same time, you also desperately want to talk to someone about how amazing it was? Yeah, that's kind of how it was for me while playing Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth. Unfortunately, most people will be unable to get past either its' odd gameplay hybrid of both visual novel/strategy-RPG OR the basically required-to-enjoy predecessor called Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception (released just four months prior), which is not nearly as good as Mask of Truth, and I can't really blame them. Much like Xenoblade Chronicles 2, there are also more than a few problematic "anime" fanservice elements that become a really tough aspect to ask most people to overlook. Again, can't easily recommend it to anyone... But, in a year where everyone is rooting for incredibly depressed robots trying to act like humans (Nier Automata) -- I and maybe like two other people were tested by the plight of the equally, if not possibly more so, emotionally scarred protagonists in the brilliant narrative conclusion to the Utawarerumono trilogy in Mask of Truth. Wrapping up so many story threads through amazing character development and riveting wartime storytelling, a deeply fascinating world/lore with a shockingly stellar localization to punctuate the experience, and perhaps an instance or two of salt flying into my eyes to trigger the waterworks did more than a number on me story-wise alone. Add all of this to my favorite subgenre of role-playing game (good ol' turn-based SRPGs!) and it somehow it snuck its way into my favorite of the year in such fierce competition. It is definitely a game most are unlikely to get around to appreciating, and again, I don't blame them in the slightest, though I know that I could not have been gladder to have played it as my Game of 2017.
  8. 1 point
    Editor's Note: Kairi is our second new guest writer for our Game of the Year 2017 feature this year! She's a passionate gamer and RPG fan who plays quite a lot of games throughout the year and works on the retail side of the gaming industry. You can follow her at @YukiKairi on Twitter. Let me begin by saying that this was probably one of my favorite starts to any gaming year in history. 2017 started off with some great releases in the first 3 months that I haven’t seen in years. First, we had Resident Evil 7: Biohazard which was fully playable in VR, and if you don’t know me -- which I’m sure some of you may not -- I cannot play horror, but boy do I enjoy watching others get scared playing these games and watching the story unfold. Sadly, this game didn’t make my personal list, but it’s a worthy nominee since it brought faith back in the series and genre of horror. Sony took me by surprise with releasing so many exclusives this year and having a majority of them come out right at the start. Nintendo released their new system -- the Switch -- fairly early as well, gaining amazing support from many game developers. In the latter half of this year, Nintendo came out with their next classic system, the SNES, which included a never before released title: Star Fox 2. Sadly, Microsoft was a major disappointment for me this year. They started off by canceling Scalebound; a title that I was really anticipating. On the plus side, there was one title that caught my eye which I’ve been eagerly waiting to play and that’s Cuphead. Cuphead is one of those gems that eats at my core due to the art style, gameplay, and music soundtrack. The best way for me to describe it is old-school Disney (back when Steamboat Willie came out) met with Looney Tunes and decided to have a baby, which became this game. The fact that this game is completely hand-drawn just blows me away. There are honestly so many titles that I would love to gush over and talk more about, but I just can’t get to them all this year. That’s how busy this gaming year has been for me. I think I’ve played more as well as looked into more games than previous years combined. I wish I got to play more of my backlog (including some that I just recently acquired) so I could consider them on this year’s list as well. It’s been one eventful year for gaming and I can’t wait to see what 2018 brings. With that said, it’s been very challenging for me to compile this list together, but somehow I’ve nailed it down to these ten intriguing and unique gems that I’m anxious to talk more about in depth. 10. Sonic Mania I’ve been looking forward to this release since being instructed to check it out. The last Sonic title I played personally was Sonic Colors for the Wii. I haven’t seen a Sonic title I wanted to delve into until this caught my eye. Once I started playing it, I instantly got classic Sonic vibes. The music and controls were just as familiar to me as I was playing it back in the day with some new moves included. The updated graphics still look like classic Sonic but are refreshing to see in this day in age. I really enjoyed playing some of the classic levels as well as the newly designed levels. I never thought I’d get to enjoy a Sonic game again. This game was definitely every Sonic fan dreams and then some. 9. Splatoon 2 As someone who played the first title towards the end of the Wii U’s cycle, I wasn’t expecting to pick this title up for quite some time. What the single-player lacks is where it shines in its multiplayer, which I put way too many hours into. I played way more of this installment than the first might I add. The new maps and the new weapons really add more to this title than the first. Splatfest is still a whole lot of fun and continues to have a unique way for picking teams. But the game's new mode, called “Salmon Run”, is definitely one of the best modes I’ve played in any multiplayer to date and made me enjoy it so much more. This title just had to ink its way unto my list for how much of a joy it has been to play. Who wouldn’t want to be a squid instead of kid? 8. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdoms Battle When I first heard of a Mario and Rabbid collaboration, I thought: "Was this a joke? It sounds like a terrible idea and there was no way it could ever work or be good." Boy, am I eating my words right now. What makes this title so great is not just the humor of the Rabbids, but it’s actually quite a challenging strategic game. It’s very much an X-COM rip-off in gameplay style where it has a similar cover system and grid system, but it takes it a step more with character design. Each character has their own set of abilities for you to choose from and two different weapon sets which you are able to pick which weapon to use. And the level design was really on par with other Mario titles. This was definitely my top pick for "most surprising game of the year". I secretly hope there’s a sequel in the works because I’d love to see the Mario cast team up with the Rabbids again with some new faces added as well. 7. Fire Emblem Warriors Truthfully, if I had to choose one Fire Emblem title to consider on this list I’d probably pick this one. As excited as I was for Echoes earlier this year, I sadly didn’t have a chance to play it due to time spent on other titles and Fire Emblem Heroes on my phone, but I was equally excited for this installment as well. Fire Emblem Warriors is a fantastic collaboration with Fire Emblem and Dynasty Warriors' gameplay. It really utilized all my favorite parts of FE, except it isn’t grid-based; instead, you can completely roam the battlefield, which is a blast. The music is still fantastic as ever. The story is still interesting and enjoyable enough. The voice-acting isn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but I still enjoy the Japanese voice-acting a bit more. My one complaint I have about it is the characters involved in the game are heavily from Awakening and Fates. There are so many more characters from the series overall I would have included. I’m still secretly hoping for either more DLC to include more characters from other titles or perhaps a sequel, which would still be up my alley since I really have enjoyed pretty much every FE title since being recommended to play this series. Currently, I’m really looking forward to playing more DLC that starts arriving soon with the first character pack on December 21. 6. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild This was a title that I’ve been tossing back and forth while trying to figure out the best spot to include it on my list. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the next Zelda every time a new one comes out. This one did not disappoint, to say the least. In fact, this title was the very reason I bought a Switch on day one. However, what I didn’t expect was how frustrating this installment in the series this one would be. It’s got adventure for sure; the whole map is huge and full of exploration. I definitely give it that since this was one of my favorite features. The story is fantastic and really tears at the heart as far as friendships with loyalty for any Zelda tale, but in order to appreciate it, you need to find the locations of certain memories and then some to fully understand it. One new feature that I really enjoyed and probably spent way too much time doing was the cooking aspect. It was just loads of fun exploring and mixing new ingredients. Lastly, the one detail that really took my breath away was the visuals and character design. This really showcased the Switch in a good light right off the bat. As far as criticism goes, one of the main reasons why I placed it here was the battle system. It feels too much like Dark Souls (I love the Souls series, don’t get me wrong, but for certain games like Zelda it’s just off-putting). Personally, I don’t mind weapon durability since that brings a challenge in and of itself, but I feel like weapons are too easy to break, especially when you have a weapon at level 20 that will still break in 3 hits after using it. Now, one key improvement that would fix this issue would be a Blacksmith, just like Skyrim where you would go to fix your weapons. One core weapon they completely ruined was the Master Sword, which is a legendary and key component to any Zelda. There’s a key reason as to why it’s the Master Sword; it shouldn’t take 13 hours to recharge in order to use it. Another major reason for its ranking here on the list is any time you decide to climb a mountain, somehow it would start to rain, and in order to continue your climb you will have to wait 20 min in real time. I don’t even know how many times it rained, but boy was it so annoying. Other reasons include the dungeons or bosses not being as challenging or unique enough. The most annoying enemy are the guardians. Whether they were the Stalker variety or not they could instantly kill you. Heavens forbid if you weren’t equipped with the right gear or weapons and stumbled across one or many of these. You were just doomed to death. I felt the puzzles were pretty lackluster as well. In one of them, I flipped the maze tablet over and then once more to complete the challenge instead of doing the maze puzzle. Lastly, the voice-acting was just awful. I really was not impressed with the English cast at all. In fact, I muted it every time there was dialogue. I wish they decided not to do voice-overs after all. Honestly, I really wanted to enjoy this title so much, but there are many other Zelda titles that just have greater gameplay and replay value to me. That said, this title is still worth checking out due to story and visuals alone, but I feel younger audiences will have such a hard time appreciating it since it’s quite challenging at times. 5. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 To say I’ve been a fan of this series since the first one released on the Wii would be correct since I did take part in a certain fan campaign. When this title was unveiled in January of this year, I didn’t expect to see it at all this year since it just seemed to good to be true, but I’m glad it actually came out and at such a great time, I might add. I’ve always appreciated titles such a these where I’m able to explore the open world and soak in the surrounding environment. If I could live amongst the clouds in a vivid setting such as this, I believe I would never want to step foot off of it. I really enjoy this gameplay style since the combat feels so much like Final Fantasy XII, but it tweaks it just a bit to make it its own unique addictive combat system. I’m always willing and ready to delve hours upon hours into JRPGs such as this since I enjoy the storyline and being able to have the choice for sidequests. One small complaint I have would be the mini-map since you can get lost here and there if you’re not careful, but I’m glad to hear that there’s a new patch coming that seems to fix this feature. What makes this title worth my while even more was the fact that the soundtrack transported me to a new world which made me feel like I was a part of it. It’s such a joy to hear since it’s by one of my favorite composers Yasunori Mitsuda, whose work never ceases to amaze me. The blade designs are all very unique since each rare blade was made by a different artist that usually works on different titles. I was intrigued when Nintendo unraveled the new designs each week leading up to launch since it sparked more excitement and gave me an insight into the artist's work on this title. There are some designs which may be questionable since they don’t have the look and appeal to the series overall, but I honestly feel like it's a breath of fresh air since I got to see a new artist take on character design that I myself was never familiar with. I was really impressed with how well everything about this title meshed together. I’m grateful to say that towards the end of 2017 we have another standout JRPG that every fan should check out. I’m certainly curious what the new story content will bring and what the new rare blade will be seeing as that won’t be out till next year, but thankful that I have more to look forward to. 4. Horizon Zero Dawn Having never truly played a game by Guerilla Games before, I was willing to try this out based on the many previews I saw and the fact that it had a strong female lead. This was another title that featured a key aspect that I really enjoy in quite a few games: having a beautifully crafted post-apocalyptic open world where I could explore anywhere. However, this is one where as a player you need to be careful of your surroundings since it's inhabited by robotic creatures called 'machines,' which some are peaceful and others will attack. The combat was challenging in that you needed to be strategic with certain enemies to pinpoint their weaknesses and compelling since it made me feel like a hunter out in the woods wanting to pick up a bow myself. I really appreciated the stealth aspect of this game as well since I’m such a sucker for being stealthy and laying low like in the Assassin’s Creed series. Hands down my favorite performance by any actor this year was Ashly Burch who definitely delivered an amazing performance as Aloy. I’m looking forward to trying out the Frozen Wilds expansion since it just recently came out last month and I’ve been delving into so many other titles as of late. 3. Super Mario Odyssey To say this is probably one of my favorite Mario games to date would be highly correct. When I first saw gameplay footage of this, I was a bit skeptical; not to say I wasn’t a fan of a hat named “Cappy” which allowed Mario to become literally anything he tossed it at. I actually really enjoyed this aspect of the title, but I was not a fan of one particular kingdom at first. New Donk City, which is part of the Metro Kingdom, just seemed rather out of place for a Mario game to me since Mario was running around a city largely based on New York City itself with humans. I soon realized that was pretty foolish of me since that was only one of the many kingdoms to explore and enjoy. With that out of the way, I must say the color palette of this Mario blows all other Mario titles out of the water. It’s been such a joy to visit other kingdoms and roam around such a breathtaking backdrop. The gameplay really reminds me of Mario 64 and Sunshine style combined with more key Mario elements. Lastly, the music had one of the best theme songs ever this year since it was super catchy and a blast to hear. This was by far my favorite title to launch on the Switch this year and is a title that everyone can enjoy and appreciate for years to come. Also, who wouldn’t want a sidekick like Cappy on their team to overcome Bowser’s plot to marry Peach? 2. NieR: Automata This was by far my hardest choice to make because it very easily could have been my top pick, especially since this was my most anticipated title to come out this year. Ever since catching a glimpse of it briefly being shown at E3 in 2015 to showcase its artwork, I instantly fell in love with the character design and setting. Also, this was by far my favorite of the different installments in the series. I’ve always been an avid fan of Yoko Taro’s work. His style is truly remarkable and I really admire it. This style really eats at my core due to the dark, unusual post-apocalyptic backdrop. I never thought I’d have a chance to play a game that required several gameplays to fully understand the depth of the story and it honestly changed my life for the better. A game that made me have so many feelings for androids I never believed would be possible. While the story and character design is what makes me appreciate this title the most, it has a great fast-paced action and a combat system that was a joy to play. Its music soundtrack is highly desirable as well with it being my favorite from any title this year. Honestly, I can’t wait to see the next installment if in fact there is one, or even a new IP from Taro. Before mentioning my number one pick I want to take some time to briefly list some honorable mentions that could have made my list. In no particular order here they are: Life is Strange: Before the Storm, Destiny 2, Layton’s Mystery Journey, Injustice 2, and Tales of Berseria. 1. Persona 5 A title that honestly deserves this spot and 'Best JRPG' for the year. A game that was first announced in 2013, then got delayed from its original release in 2014 to improve the quality to finally release in 2016 in Japan, and then finally a worldwide release at the start of this year. It’s been a title that many Persona fans have been waiting for since 4 came out in 2008. Even though I’m a newer fan of this series, I’m not sure why I didn’t delve into it much earlier. This was my first Persona title even though Persona 4 Golden is in my backlog. However, I am not new to Atlus titles; they always know how to make brilliant and fascinating games (with Catherine being my favorite; I’m still holding out for a sequel!). The story in Persona 5 is so well put together and enjoyable. I was impressed right out of the gate when it started off as a flashback sequence. I enjoyed the overall theme behind it and how it used a high school setting. It was a joy to play as a Phantom Thief. It’s not every day you get to go incognito with a different persona in another realm to steal someone’s heart that has an ill will. Not going to spoil anything, but the major twist was so satisfying. The voice cast was one of the best works for a team altogether. The character design is one I can always get behind since I enjoy artwork such as this. I really appreciated the turn-based combat system much more because it gave you the option to 'Hold Up' the enemy, which allowed you to do a number set of options as well. The dungeons were actually a lot of fun to explore as well. I can’t wait to see how the next one will compare since this was such a pleasure to delve into. It’s been a delight to share my favorites for this year with all of you. Now, here are some titles I’m highly anticipating to enjoy next year: Code Vein, Vampyr, Detroit Become Human, Ni No Kuni II, God of War, Insomniac's Spider-Man, Project Octopath Traveler, Lost Sphear, Far Cry 5, and the new Fire Emblem title.
  9. 1 point
    Editor's note: Marissa (aka 'Rissa') is our first new contributor to our Game of the Year feature this year! She's a friend from Twitter who loves gaming and occasionally cosplays at different coventions throughout the year. You can find follow her at @Rissake on Twitter and find more of her writing on Medium. It didn’t take long before the games came rolling out in 2017. Not only were there an incredible selection of games, we were also bestowed with the release of the Nintendo Switch! With a new system rolling out, and many other great games following, 2017 was, in my opinion, one of the best years in gaming. I am a loyal Nintendo gamer, so you will find that all of my selections were exclusively for the Switch or Nintendo 3DS. They definitely kept me busy this year. 9. ARMS Nintendo’s clever take on boxing was one of the most intriguing games for me this year, and I was highly anticipating it. I’m not one for fighting games, but the unique rapid fighting style and artwork had me completely captivated. Each fighter comes with a choice of arms which range from boxing gloves to giant hammers, missile cannons and other unique choices. The combo you choose will determine how your character fights. As much as I enjoyed this game, I am guilty of not playing nearly enough of it. However, I have been able to play different modes such as single player, multiplayer and online play. It takes a while to grasp the fighting style, and using the joycons is a definite challenge in itself. Overall, a unique take on a fighting game that I would love to get back into. 8. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King 3DS By no means is this a “new” game, but cor blimey, the 3DS remake of Journey of the Cursed King was one of my highlights in 2017! After playing the original on the PS2 years ago, I was incredibly happy to welcome an old friend to the comfort of my 3DS. As upsetting as it was to not hear the beautifully orchestrated music we had heard on the PS2 version, the new content makes up what our ears lack. Having Red and Morrie joining in on your adventures made the battles all the more interesting! No more random battles, & new side quests, new dungeons and even a whole new take on the ending makes this 3DS remake everything you need and more! Reliving one of my favorite games brought me an immense amount of joy. 7. Fire Emblem Warriors As someone who has never played a Dynasty Warriors game and didn’t care all that much for Hyrule Warriors, Fire Emblem Warriors has been a thrill to play! The Kingdom of Aytolis is falling, and it is up to Princess Lianna and Prince Rowan to rally troops and restore peace to their nation. If you’re a fan of hack and slash games and Fire Emblem Awakening/Fates, then this is the game for you. The missions were fun, yet challenging, and the story kept me interested in progressing through the game more & more. Plus, the amusing support conversations gave the game an extra charm. Multiplayer is a blast and I highly recommend you play this with a friend. It makes everything more enjoyable (and maybe a little easier). 6. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Because Switch ports make everything better. Mario Kart 8 is by far my favorite in the Mario Kart franchise, and I was thrilled to have it on the Switch! With better graphics, new characters, new courses and even an improved Battle mode, this game has easily made its way into my top picks this year. Plus, the Smart Steering was a nice touch for those who are new or inexperienced with Mario Kart (it made playing with my family a lot more entertaining). 5. Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires' Conspiracy Little known fact: the Professor Layton series is one of my all-time favorite gaming franchises. Not only did we get a new Layton game, but we get a new (adorable) protagonist: Katrielle Layton. The daughter of the esteemed Professor Layton begins her career as a detective and opens up her own agency, solving numerous cases and puzzles on her way. As expected with any Layton game, the music is wonderful, characters are charming and the story is light-hearted with many intricate puzzles. Being able to customize your office and dress up Katrielle as you wish made the game all the more unique. While it kept similar features from previous games, it was definitely a different take on the Layton series. However, change can be good and I found it very refreshing to be greeted with different cases and new characters to grow close to. It may not have been the “perfect” Layton game, but I’m excited to see where LEVEL-5 will be taking us on our Layton Journey. 4. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia For the past 4 years, Fire Emblem has easily made its way onto my list of favorite gaming series. Each one I have played has been a wonderful experience, and Shadow of Valentia gave my love for this series a major boost. Echoes offered not only your classic Fire Emblem gameplay but some new features that gave it a whole new feeling. I particularly enjoyed exploring through temples and dungeons for endless amounts of loot and gaining extra experience. It was a nice break from the narrative of the game. I’m guilty of not playing the original version, Fire Emblem Gaiden, but I know without a doubt this remake was a faithful successor. With its captivating character artwork, strategic gameplay and a beautiful story, this was an easy choice for my top 2017 games! 3. Splatoon 2 Of all the games I was looking forward to the most this year, Splatoon 2 was the one. I fell in love with the first one back in 2015 and I devoted over 200 hours of blissful gameplay into it. Needless to say, I fell in love with this series all over again. Splatoon 2 is vibrant, quirky and nothing short of amazing. With a plethora of returning features to see, we are also lavished with so many new weapons, stages, music and clothing (not to mention hairstyles)! Salmon Run is a brand-new co-op mode featured in Splatoon 2 and is definitely one you’ll want to try. It may take playing a few rounds to get used to the horde environment, but I found it easily addictive and a blast to play online with friends! We may not have our lovely Squid Sisters this time around, but Pearl and Marina are extremely likable and give Splatfest a whole new groove. No doubt this game is off the hook and one of the highlights of my year. 2. Super Mario Odyssey The man wears many hats, and that’s one of the beauties of this game. He’s more than just a plumber, he’s anything you want him to be. Super Mario Odyssey absolutely blew me away in every single aspect. It’s breath-taking, charming and heartwarmingly nostalgic for most gamers familiar with the Mario series. It’s genuinely a fun game! There are so many Power Moons to find and places to explore that you will never grow tired of playing. Super Mario Odyssey is gorgeous, & I can gush over the aesthetic elements of this game forever. Regardless if I’m playing on my 4K HD TV or my Switch screen, the vivid colors make this game pure eye candy! Of course, the soundtrack is not to be forgotten. The music is catchy, orchestrated beautifully and creates a perfect atmosphere throughout the game. Honestly, I can never get enough of 'Jump Up, Super Star'. Playing this game was an absolute joy, and brought out the small child in me who grew up playing Mario games. Tears may have been present with admiration and nostalgia, & that is why I know it truly means so much to me. It is such a phenomenal game that is not only a top pick for 2017, but a top pick for my personal favorites. 1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild The funny thing about this being my number one pick for 2017 is that I was very skeptical about it prior to release. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited, but seeing how different it was going to be from previous Zelda games had me worried. After playing this game for a short amount of time proved I had nothing to worry about. Breath of the Wild was everything I wanted and more. The moment I realized this might be the best game I’ve ever played was alarming. Yes, it’s different, yes, it’s new, but that’s what makes it so fascinating. You literally can do anything you want right from the start. You can climb any surface, swim in any body of water and pick up almost any object you see. Breath of the Wild allows you to explore until your heart's content. What I love most about this game is not only Link’s development throughout the game, but also yours as the player. You obtain better items to fight powerful enemies, better equipment to tread through various climate changes and even more courage to face menacing foes. I was completely unable to fight against a Guardian until I was at least 50+ hours in and by then I had plenty of practice with the shield parry. After years of playing video games, Breath of the Wild brought forth a completely new experience of gaming to me. It was not like anything ever played in all my years. There were days I’d play for hours and did not accomplish anything except exploring new areas and admiring views. Everything about this game won me over, and I will never forget the moment I first started playing or all the Divine Beasts I conquered. I caught myself grinning like a child as I played this game. This may be the reason it has triumphed over all others.
  10. 1 point
    2017 was one of the first years I actually had difficulty keeping up with the steady stream of games. I felt inundated with a deluge of appealing titles, more so than previous years. Sitting down and sifting through what caught my attention has taken no small amount of effort, but I’ve come up with a list that might uncover some hidden gems for you. If you’re like me and missed out on some of 2017’s lesser-known stars, the holidays are the perfect opportunity to catch up. Pull up a chair, stoke the fire in the hearth, and kick back for a blast from the very recent past. (Editor's note: Unlike previous lists, Harrison's list is presented in no certain order) Stories Untold Inevitably, Stories Untold is going to draw comparisons to Netflix's Stranger Things. The ‘80s aesthetic, soundtrack, and title font all evoke the Netflix phenomenon. Stories Untold, however, is a far different animal. Inspired by text-based adventures of yesteryear, this short game traverses four episodes of psychological and atmospheric horror. There are no jump-scares, per se, but Stories Untold can be a deeply unsettling experience. It gets under your skin without the usual guts and gore of your average horror game. I won’t say more because I’d spoil what makes it special, but this is one title you’d be remiss to pass on. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus I will admit the recent political climate has been a mental drag. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is both the manifestation of and the antidote to my current anxieties; a bludgeoning gut-punch of a game that comes face-to-face with the worst aspects of human nature. Despite the depravity, however, hope remains a constant theme. Even as you’re decapitating and dismembering baddies to make America Nazi-free again, Wolfenstein II pulls on the emotional chords more than I expected. I genuinely cared for the characters and rooted for this tiny insurgency to overthrow the horrors of Nazi tyranny. Just as Wolfenstein II pulls no punches in its depictions of violence, so too does it delve into racism, domestic abuse, misogyny, and modern societal ailments. This game is bold, and in some ways, vital. Call of Duty: WWII Call of Duty has always been a meat-and-potatoes shooter. It’s the series that’s resisted franchise burnout time and again, despite the push and pull of the shooter market. WWII represents a hearkening back to what made the series popular in the first place. The campaign is more measured, the multiplayer pared back a bit, and the action as grimly visceral as ever. In some ways, Call of Duty is more formulaic than it’s ever been. In other ways, it feels like a new experience. You might not be impressed by Call of Duty’s return to form, but those who’ve longed for the series to return to its roots will be greatly pleased with Sledgehammer’s effort. LEGO City Undercover Telltale Games has made some serious bank off of comic book franchises and LEGO adaptations of popular movies. Few of their titles, however, scratched the itch for fun that LEGO City Undercover somehow reached. LEGO City technically came out a couple years ago for the WiiU (Editor's note: Would you believe it was actually four years ago?; it was one of Jason's Top 10 Games of 2013!), but I’d only recently gotten around to checking out the recent port on Nintendo Switch. I wish I’d given this game a shot sooner because it’s a hilarious parody of Grand Theft Auto, detective noir, and every police film you can imagine. One-liners and pop culture references back up an entertaining open-world playground, where players can zip around and stop criminal clowns in their tracks. It’s all light-hearted fun, and something more folks should give a chance. FIFA 18 Sports fans already know one simple fact; EA owns our souls. We pour out buckets of cash each year to the FIFA franchise, and subscribe to the silly trading card metagames that rob us of patience and money. For all my cynicism, it’s moot because FIFA 18 is such a darn good product. The presentation, tweaked gameplay, and breadth of content are top-class. This is FIFA at its peak, and boy is that summit a blast. The addition of Football Ultimate Team Squad Battles adds an additional strategic layer to building your dream football squad, incentivizing competition against rival players’ teams. The singleplayer story, 'The Journey', remains a well-written campaign for those tired of multiplayer. Whatever you’re looking for out of FIFA, you’ll find it here. Space Hulk: Deathwing Space Hulk technically came out last December, but it was kind of a mess. As you might expect, I withheld digging in until I felt the game was in an acceptable state. The developers at Streum On spent months patching it up and rebalancing the combat per player feedback. The result is a better optimized, fairer co-op shooter with big beefy tank-people. Space Hulk is bloody good at conveying a sense of mass and impact, surrounding you with a literal army of xenos to cleanse. Nothing like old-fashioned alien killin’ to get the blood pumping, eh? Redeemer I enjoyed kung-fu movies as a kid, so Redeemer is something of a guilty pleasure. It’s a gory, virulently-stupid splatterfest where every punch seems to send a geyser of red stuff shooting everywhere. Combat is fast, crunchy, and brutal. While ranged combat is something of a mixed bag, Redeemer absolutely nails the melee aspect to a T. Those looking for subtlety need apply elsewhere. Redeemer is a face-punching simulator dialed to 11. Ghost Recon: Wildlands I have a hard time saying Ghost Recon: Wildlands is good. It isn’t. At least, not in the traditional sense. It’s a big, goofy, occasionally-shoddy open-world shooter that’s best taken with a grain of salt. If you give in to its dumb premise and cut loose, Ghost Recon reveals itself to be a raucous time. No, the plot doesn’t make a lick of sense. Yes, the writing can be way too serious at times. Yes, you should absolutely give it a try if you have a few friends who also own the game. Messing with the game’s open-ended combat arenas and muddling through some hilarious bugs adds to the charming mess that is Wildlands.
  11. 1 point
    What a year for gaming 2017 turned out to be. My personal experience can be best summed up with the idiom, "I bit off more than I could chew." So many games that I anticipated being on this list didn’t make it for no other reason than I never got around to playing or finishing them. A year after its release, I discovered Overwatch and it took up so much of my 2017 gaming time. There were also those early months in the year when I experienced a bit of gaming funk that I blame on the game that sits at the top of my list. Everything I played after was a disappointment, and unfortunately, Mass Effect Andromeda, Prey, Nioh, and Nier Automata became casualties of my slump. Once I got my gaming legs back, I went on a rampage. Something I also noticed in 2017: games were being sold with nice discounts almost immediately after they released. The frequent sales on PSN committed the biggest crimes against my wallet, and while I greatly appreciated them, I now find myself with more games than time. Before I get into my games of the year, I’d like to mention a couple notable games that I had to leave off. Wolfenstein 2 would have made the list for sure but I barely had a chance to play any of it. I also excluded Victor Vran, because it was previously released on PC before making its way to console this year. If you are a fan of Diablo, I highly recommend Victor Vran. Farpoint, which I think aside from a few wonky control issues I had (I did not buy the PSVR aim controller) and the temperamental camera settings is a killer app for PSVR and I loved the immersive feel that felt like being in a sci-fi movie. However, my 'cat of destruction' decided that chewing the PSVR wires was a good idea, thus shutting down my virtual reality life temporarily. By the way, cat-chewed wires are not covered by the warranty! One game you won’t find on my list is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I tried to play this game on several occasions and based my Switch purchase almost solely on it. It just didn’t resonate with me. In fact, the game frustrates me more than anything. (Editor's note: Laddie wasn't the only one to feel that way about Breath of the Wild; there's a similar story about it in Jon's list as well.) So here it is, my mostly predictable favorite games of 2017. 10. Lawbreakers Lawbreakers is kind of a mix between Overwatch and a slower, less mobile Titanfall. I know it didn’t appeal to -- or even retain -- much of a player-base, but I enjoyed my time with it. There was definitely a steep learning curve, especially using the zero gravity portions of the maps, but Lawbreakers was a great concept, and I admire Boss Key for their dedication to the game post-release. I’m sure a game that uses the pre-made hero model is probably easier to balance, but people like to customize their characters and -- unlike Overwatch -- there’s only a handful of characters to select from. The game offered me (at a discounted price) a month of pure shooter fun that felt fresh while still retaining the basics of an arena shooter. At launch, the game lacked a team deathmatch mode, which was probably a bad move as it’s the favorite game mode in most shooters, especially for the less competitive players. As the population dwindled, it became more frustrating not only due to the long searches for games but the uneven team balance that matchmaking offers when so few are playing. I’d love to see the game have a resurgence, but that likely won’t happen unless a sequel happens, and I would definitely support that. 9. Assassins Creed: Origins The only reason this game is so far down on my list is I am still playing it. I don’t usually include games I’ve not finished on lists like this but barring any drastic turn to being terrible, this game belongs here, and probably even much higher up. I’ve never been much of a fan of the Assassins Creed series, but I love the ancient Egyptian setting and I bought it while it was on sale during Black Friday week. Granted, its been awhile since I played an AC game, but I don’t recall the experience being this awesome. Origins moves away from the stealth action-adventure genre and charges straight into RPG territory with an excellent progression system, very expansive world, and side quests galore, which includes raiding tombs for loot that would make Lara Croft envious. Sure, there is a skill tree, but I love how protagonist Bayak automatically transcends into a badass the more you level up. I’m not one for stealth combat, and provided you do not take on missions that are way out of your pay grade, you can go loud and take down entire armies with a mixture of various melee weapons and bow and arrow. Combat is smooth, intuitive, and fun. If that’s not enough, you can climb pyramids and pet cats. 8. Knack 2 Knack holds a special place in my gaming history as the first game I completed on PS4. Knack 2 improves on the action-adventure/ platformer by giving Knack what he desperately needed, more moves and abilities. There’s even an in-game joke that mocks the old Knack’s lack of cool abilities that I found incredibly endearing considering the game was a bit of an internet joke, so it’s nice to see Sony can poke fun at itself with the rest of them. As a series, Knack has a bit of an identity crisis as to what it wants to be, but at least the sequel has a bit more direction. Through the use of relics, Knack has the ability to change sizes from very tiny to a twenty-foot giant. It doesn’t take a lot of strategy to figure out how to use this ability to your advantage and much of the platforming elements feel familiar but why not just embrace it for what it is: a flawed but entertaining and fun experience. I take a lot of flak for defending this series, but if loving Knack is wrong, I don’t want to be right! 7. The Evil Within 2 I didn’t ever get around to playing the first game, but I was wrapped up in the moment of Halloween and wanted something scary to play at the time this released. The Evil Within 2 gives you a brief history lesson at the beginning, but if you are worried about skipping the first game like I did, IGN has a great video that sums up the Evil Within in 5 minutes. At times, The Evil Within 2 feels a lot like The Last of Us in its combat and crafting, especially the stealthier combat aspects. My biggest issue with the game was the bad dialog and underwhelming characters, but the story overall is intriguing kind of Silent Hill meets the Matrix with a super creepy main villain. The semi-open world and the side quests gave the game a nice change of pace for the horror genre. I found myself going back to replay sections of the game looking for things I missed, something I don’t usually do with horror games. I bought Evil Within 2 on a whim and didn’t expect much from it, let alone it being one of my favorite games of the year. 6. Call of Duty: WWII I think I was one of the few people that did not want Call of Duty (or COD) to go back to World War II, let alone return to boots-on-the-ground combat. The beta further confirmed my feelings as I couldn’t get a feel for it in the few matches I tried out. Yet, I was still intrigued and had actually thought COD Advanced Warfare was the best COD MP in awhile so I wanted to give Sledgehammer another shot. A funny thing happened: the more I played, I started to adjust to the slower pace and lack of wall-running and super-jumps or -slides, and I began to get it. Graphically, it’s gorgeous; I’m playing on the PS4 Pro but I’m sure it is just as stunning on a standard console. Most of my playtime has been spent in PvP multiplayer, but I did complete the campaign and it was heartfelt and at times very poignant. However, everyone knows the heart of COD is multiplayer, and while I would have like a few more maps, it’s the best most balanced MP Call of Duty has been in years. Hopefully, it stays that way and they won’t introduce overpowered weapons that are found only in loot boxes. As it is now, the epic guns are the same as the standard weapons but offer an XP boost and a different look. True to its word, COD WWII brings the series back to form, I guess you can go home again. 5. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy Being that the video game industry is still mostly a boys club, I have to give kudos to Naughty Dog for featuring two kick-ass women to star in its first post-Drake Uncharted content. We were introduced to Chloe and Nadine in other Uncharted games and I think they were a good choice to star in their own story (even if it is technically considered Uncharted 4 DLC despite it being a stand-alone story that doesn’t require Uncharted 4). I might actually prefer Lost Legacy over Uncharted 4, as it seems to fit in better with the pace and tone of the series, whereas I found UC4 moved incredibly slow at times. Chloe’s combat style is different than Drake’s but Lost Legacy still has the cinematic feel of Uncharted, complete with lush locations, intrigue, mythology, and of course, puzzles. I’d say the game took about 7-8 hours to complete, and if for whatever reason you did not buy Uncharted 4, Lost Legacy contains full access to multiplayer and survival mode. I don’t blame Naughty Dog for wrapping up Drake’s storyline, but I hope we get more Uncharted games in the future. And as Lost Legacy has successfully showcased, I’m hopeful and confident the series can survive without Nathan Drake. 4. Destiny 2 My love/hate relationship with Destiny continues with the sequel that gets most of what was wrong with the first right. Destiny 2 starts with an attack on the Last City that destroys the tower and drains all light from the guardians. This sense of loss is driven home by the realization that after grinding the first Destiny game for three years, you must start the process all over again. The old addiction returns, and once you are back in the fray you think it won’t be that bad this time until you hit about level 280, and then the grind is real. I will say that through the use of the newly added challenges and milestones and the guided raids or nightfall, even the loneliest of wolves has a chance to level up and get in on the events that grant the best loot. The way Bungie tells the story and lore in Destiny 2 is also a big improvement over the first game as most of the story unfolds naturally through gameplay or cutscenes and not on Bungie.net. That’s not to say the Destiny 2 plot is going to be remembered for its depth, but it has charm and our favorite fire-team, Ikora, Zavala, and if course Cayde 6 all make a return. Destiny 2 builds on the vague backstory of the first game but is much more simplistic. Your job is to stop the bad man Ghaul who is responsible for capturing the Traveler. I still don’t fully understand what the Traveler is, but I know I must save it. Destiny 2’s strength lies in its gameplay, shooting aliens is rarely this much fun, and the locations are absolutely stunning. Even if you never touch the PvP, Strikes, or Raids, there’s plenty to do and explore in the story portion. As I was in the first game I’m disappointed in the PvP Portion, its as if Bungie who created one of the greatest multiplayer experiences with Halo simply forgot how to balance a multiplayer game. Admittedly, I have been suffering from a little bit of Destiny 2 burnout, but with the first expansion just released I imagine I will be back on that Destiny grind soon enough. 3. HellBlade: Senua’s Sacrifice Where should I start? This game is not only a technical masterpiece, its an emotional rollercoaster ride into mental illness and drives home the point that there is hope. Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is inspired by Norse and Celtic mythology and is part hack-and-slash, action adventure, puzzler, and survival horror. If you haven’t played this game, I highly recommend you do so. I will tread lightly here so I won’t spoil anything for those who have not played it. Its genre-bending gameplay is surprisingly intuitive and smooth. Senua has an ability called 'focus' that is triggered by effectively blocking attacks or dodging them. The game doesn’t feature a HUD, but the voices in Senua’s head (or 'Furies' as they are referred to often) help guide you or inform you where your next attack is coming from. Her attacks are basic and there is very little weapon upgrading but Senua naturally gets better, or maybe you do. Ninja Theory consulted neuroscientists, mental health specialists, and nonprofit organizations to help them properly portray and represent the horrors of mental illness. The use of 3D sound drives the voices/Furies so much so that it becomes an integral part of the experience. The level designers also did a great job of illustrating the nightmare world Senua’s mind has become. It’s often a tough game to play but it’s worth it. In the end, Senua defeats the darkness and her past, stops blaming herself, and embraces it. It’s ok to not be ok. 2. Hob This game only came to my attention shortly before it released but it easily became one of my favorite games of the year. It was developed by Runic games, known for the excellent Torchlight series. My first impression of the game was one of intrigue, but also frustration. There is no tutorial to hold your hand, and no dialogue to give you direction, you are simply thwarted into a world that looks as if technology and nature are at war. You play as a tiny non-gender specific character that I’ve assumed to be called, Hob. Early on, Hob loses an arm which is then replaced with a robot arm that is upgraded with things you find along the way. After first acquiring the robot arm I didn’t know what to do or where to go, it was looking like the game over for me almost as soon as it began. Then I started exploring my very beautiful surroundings (seriously the art and level designers at Runic are amazing) and learned I could chop down trees that were obscuring passages to where I needed to be. From then on, I explored everything, and then even the map started to make sense. There are things to find, puzzles to solve, and even light hack-and-slash battles. Often, you must revisit areas due to new tech upgrades to the robot arm. Despite its lack of dialogue, Hob is an emotional experience, even if the story is often mysterious, or more likely subjective. I was incredibly saddened to hear Runic Games was shut down shortly after Hob released dashing my dreams of a sequel or even DLC. In many ways, Hob is the game I hoped Breath of the Wild would be. RIP Runic Games. 1. Horizon Zero Dawn 2017 might well be remembered as the year of the “nasty woman,” so it’s fitting that the game that captured my heart the most featured a female protagonist. I still remember the first time this game was shown off, Guerrilla, you had me at 'robot dinosaur'. I was super hyped for this game, which often results in the actual product being a letdown; however, Horizon Zero Dawn exceeded my expectations. Gameplay is so smooth and the post-apocalyptic universe it is set in is stunning; by the way, if you aren’t playing HZD on PS4 Pro, you’re doing it wrong! When the game released, I started playing it right at midnight and didn’t stop until about 8 AM the next morning. When I wasn’t playing it I was working or sleeping but still thinking about it. A game hadn’t got under my skin like that for quite some time. I recently went back to HZD to play the very expansive DLC, The Frozen Wilds. I actually thought about including the DLC as a separate entry but decided to just combine it as the overall experience that is Horizon Zero Dawn. Our ginger hero Aloy (voiced by Ashley Burch) is strong, independent, caring, and intelligent. We are very aware of her femininity, but it’s never objectified. Aloy is a great character who happens to be female, not because of it. The thing I admire most about Aloy is her ability to forgive and not be angry or bitter about the cruelties that were inflicted upon her as a child. Aloy is an instant icon of video games and one that I hope is around for generations to come. As for gameplay, it’s damn near perfect! Battling the robot wildlife is intuitive, and each type has their own weaknesses and strengths. I had a blast trying to figure which weapons and ammo type paired best with each type, and for once I even enjoyed stealth takedowns. The story at times had me worried it was going to end somewhat convoluted but it all makes sense at the end of the game. I’ve played Horizon Zero Dawn for 125 hours (including the Frozen Wilds), and I’m looking forward to 125 more.
  12. 1 point
    If nothing else, 2017 was an absolute bonanza when it came to quality games. No matter what kind of game you like or what platforms you own, chances are there were at least a few high-quality games that could tickle your fancy. Some years have made it difficult for me to pick out ten games in total that I felt would fit on my list, but in this case, the issue was all about trying to whittle down a long, long list of contenders. And this isn’t even taking into account games I haven’t had a chance to start yet, like Super Mario Odyssey. One can only wonder if 2018 will be able to keep up the pace. Honorable Mention: Xenoblade Chronicles 2 As of this writing, I’m less than halfway through Xenoblade Chronicles 2. It wouldn’t be fair to put it in my top ten in that regard, but from what I’ve played, the game has many of the things I’d want from a proper sequel. Its world and themes evoke much of what made the first game special, while the presentation takes on its own stylistic approach with a more obviously anime-influenced aesthetic. The gameplay carries many of the same core principles, but with some new elements and streamlined returning features, which make it challenging but rewarding, and the story is building toward something that feels as rewarding as the original. Maybe I’ll put the game on next year’s Top 10 list when things are said and done, but for now, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 deserves at the very least an honorable mention. And now, on to my top ten games for 2017! 10. Kamiko The shortest and simplest game on my list, Kamiko probably wouldn’t have caught my attention had it not been for a couple of factors. In particular, the game launched not long after the Switch went on sale, and it was one of the first indie games to appear in the console’s eShop. It also didn’t hurt that the game is priced at only five dollars. There are a lot of arguments about how game price and the breadth of content should or shouldn’t be a point of comparison, but in Kamiko’s case, the price is a perfect fit. A simple adventure with retro Zelda-style qualities, three playable characters, and a completion time of just a few hours, it’s one of the best bargains on the Switch or any other platform to see a release this year. 9. Toukiden 2 For me, the time I spent with Koei Tecmo’s Toukiden 2 were the most fun I’ve ever had in the monster-hunting genre. While the original game borrowed more of its design from the Monster Hunter series, the sequel exudes more confidence in going its own way, most notably with its expansive open world. The refinements made to the core hunting mechanics and other systems also help the game stand out as a title worthy of standing on its own, rather than being labeled as a simple clone of the games that obviously inspired it. 8. Splatoon 2 The sequel to one of the Wii U’s few honest-to-squidness breakout hits, Splatoon 2 doesn’t stray too far from what made the original game so good. But while the sequel in some ways feels like a slight upgrade or a minimal expansion, it still carries that fresh feeling. The mechanical improvements, additional modes, and continued free content updates have helped elevate what was a slim game at launch into a game that’s remarkably better than the original in almost every way. 7. Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Future Tone Future Tone is easily the most content-rich and challenging release in the Project Diva series, and if you’re a fan of Vocaloid music like I am, there’s really no better game to get. With its massive track list comprised of songs taken from both the Project Diva and Project Mirai rhythm series spanning numerous artists and genres, Future Tone ‘s collection of classic songs featuring the Crypton Vocaloids is unparalleled. Also, any game that features Hatsune Miku is guaranteed to make me happy, if only because of her presence! 6. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia Count me among the many that never saw this coming. When Nintendo announced a Fire Emblem-specific Nintendo Direct early this year, I, like most people, assumed that it would focus mostly on Fire Emblem Warriors and the previously announced mobile game, Fire Emblem Heroes. So color me surprised when the Direct began with, of all things, a trailer for a full remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden! Shadows of Valentia is both a complete modernization of Gaiden, as well as a love letter to everything that made the original so unique and sometimes unfairly maligned as a black sheep. It doubles down on its dungeon and town exploration, ignores the weapon triangle in combat, ties magic usages to unit health, and puts a premium on environmental cover. The new modern touches like Mila’s Turnwheel, which allows the player to rewind time and take back actions and whole turns, just add to the fact that Shadows of Valentia isn’t afraid to be different in a post-Awakening-and-Fates world. 5. Yakuza 0 Sega’s cult hit Yakuza series took on new life in the west this year, and Yakuza 0 led the charge. With dual narratives featuring series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu and loveable lunatic Goro Majima in late 1980s Japan, the game still carries the series trademark melodramatic storytelling mixed with comically absurd asides. One minute, Kiryu is on the streets of Kamurocho, beating up thugs and staving off betrayals, and the next, he’s at a bowling alley, having won a chicken that he intends to recruit as a real estate manager. And every second is glorious. 4. Warriors All-Stars As a fan of Koei Tecmo’s Warriors games, I was blessed with more than one title that fit on my personal Top 10 for the year. It was honestly difficult determining how to rank them, but at Number 4, I’m placing Warriors All-Stars. As a successor to the Warriors Orochi series, All-Stars takes the crossover concept and runs with it, creating a game that celebrates the combined libraries of Koei, Tecmo, and Gust. Like I noted in my review earlier this year, it’s not quite Super Smash Warriors, but it comes very close to fulfilling that idea. And there’s just something special about wracking up thousands of K.O.s with an otome game protagonist. 3. Fire Emblem Warriors While Warriors All-Stars is a fun celebration of Koei Tecmo, Fire Emblem Warriors does for Fire Emblem what Hyrule Warriors did for The Legend of Zelda. And in many ways, Fire Emblem Warriors outdoes its predecessor in presentation, gameplay, and content. The Warriors format just seems like a more natural fit for Fire Emblem, and the game has been designed with the franchise’s strategy RPG roots in mind. While it is a little disappointing that the roster is predominantly made up of Fates, Awakening, and Shadow Dragon characters, each of them are brought to life with an incredible touch of detail, remaining true to their personalities and bringing about a level of expressiveness in their combat styles that the core strategy titles couldn’t bring across. 2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Breath of the Wild is largely what I’ve wanted from 3D Zelda games for a while now. In many ways, it feels like a modern reimagining of the very first NES game. The game allows the freedom to just go where I want to go, do what I want to do, and always feel rewarded in ways large and small for exploring off the beaten path. It contains qualities that beg for experimentation, whether that involve messing with the game’s physics and chemistry systems to pull off ridiculous stunts, finding inventive ways to approach combat encounters, or more simply seeing how long I can survive making a bee-line for Hyrule Castle from the start of the game. (SPOILERS: I wouldn’t get very far at all.) 1. Nier: Automata I cannot think of a game that has left an emotional impact on me as powerful as the one left by Nier: Automata. At once dismal and beautiful, hopeless and hopeful, bearing witness to the trials and tortures that the game’s android protagonists live through in one playthrough after another, it’s left me in tears of both anguished hurt and determined exultation. I wish I could point to any one moment that defines this experience for me, but I’m afraid to say anything in specifics out of fear of spoiling too much. All I can say in that regard is that if you play Nier: Automata (and you should!), you absolutely should not stop until you’ve achieved Endings A, B, C, D, and most importantly of all, E. Nier: Automata is hands down my favorite game of 2017, and the debate in my mind was never even close.
  13. 1 point
    Developer: Image & Form International AB Publisher: Image & Form International AB Platform: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PS Vita Release Date: September 21, 2017 (Switch), September 22 (PC), September 26 (PS4, PS Vita) ESRB: E for Everyone Note: This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game Four years ago, SteamWorld Dig propelled Swedish studio Image & Form to indie game developer stardom. Given its breakout success, it only makes sense that they'd return to it at some point. In many ways, however, making a direct sequel was just about as risky as it was for them to pivot to a completely different genre with their last game, SteamWorld Heist. Why? Offhand, it's difficult to imagine where they could go further with the Dig formula, and a sequel could easily have been too much of the same with not enough new content added to justify it, and thus seem unnecessary in the end. The good news? This isn't at all the case with SteamWorld Dig 2, and -- against all odds -- Image & Form have created a fantastic sequel that improves on its predecessor in just about every way, delivering something truly memorable as a result. This time around, you play as Dorothy (aka 'Dot') -- the young, female steambot who was an NPC merchant in town in the original title -- who is on a journey to find Rusty, the original protagonist, whom has vanished following the events at the end of the first game. Dot's travels take her to a mining town called El Machino, where rumors report that a steambot wearing a red scarf has descended into the mines there. Also along for the ride this time around is new supporting character "Fen" -- a digital sprite with snarky, condescending humor who serves as a sort of guide for Dot. At the start, SteamWorld Dig 2 does feel an awful lot like the first game, especially for the first third or so. The main gameplay cycle -- digging down into the mine, recovering ore, selling it in town, and upgrading your character -- remains intact here and forms the core of the design. However, the game manages to retread similar ground while greatly improving the formula and overall experience at the same time. For example, whereas Dig 1 is entirely a vertical descent, Dig 2 features a certain amount of horizontal exploration as well. As a result, the in-game world is considerably larger and more fleshed out than the one found in the first game. Dig 2 also features a slew of nifty new enhancements Dot will acquire (ala Metroid) as she progresses that help expand her means of exploration. Some enhancements may be familiar, but others are actually different altogether from what Rusty received in the last game, which is something I appreciated. In addition to upgrades you can buy for the different items and modifications you acquire throughout the game, SteamWorld Dig 2 introduces 'Cog Mods,' in which you use various cogs you acquire to unlock new augmentations and skills that make things more efficient for Dot. For example, one mod causes enemies to be pushed back on impact when using the pickaxe to attack them while another might reduce any fall damage you receive. It's a neat way of letting players further customize their own game experience. Also making a return from the first game are individual caverns that you'll come across; each of which have a certain theme to them, where they either reward you by completing a challenging platforming exercise, or puzzles that must be solved using platforming elements. And coming off of the last game, Image & Form have really upped their game design skills with these, as they offer some of the most challenging yet rewarding gameplay in the game. Many of the caverns' designs toward the end are absolutely brilliant. Not to be outdone, it must be said that the story in SteamWorld Dig 2 is leaps and bounds above the original's. While the overall narrative of Dot searching for Rusty stays intact, there are a number of twists and turns that fans of the first game will especially appreciate. There were moments I certainly didn't see coming, and a number that really stand out due to how off the beaten path the story goes at certain points. Even the relationship between Dot and Fen evolves over the course of the game and becomes one of its best highlights toward the end. Without spoiling anything, the story is utterly fantastic and plays nearly as big a reason as the gameplay as to why I'm so ecstatic about the game. Finally, both the visuals and soundtrack are outstanding. Image & Form solidified the colorful, cartoonish look they were going for with their last game, SteamWorld Heist, and it carries over nicely into Dig 2. The graphics look especially vibrant on the Switch's handheld screen; if you own one, that's the way to play it. El Huervo of Hotline Miami 2 fame was tapped for the music this time around, and -- no hyperbole -- this is absolutely one of my favorite soundtracks of the year. Part of what makes it succeed is a lesser reliance on the typical "Steampunk/Western-sounding themes" and more of a focus on electronic and general video gamey-sounding beats. It's extremely catchy stuff, and while there a few different musical styles represented, they all work well together. There's so much more I want to say about the game yet can't because of spoilers, but suffice it to say that SteamWorld Dig 2 blew my expectations out of the water with this sequel. Dot's quest to discover what happened to Rusty leads to some fascinating and unexpected moments throughout the game, and you can really feel that the larger SteamWorld lore is being added to in significant ways with this title. Tie that all up with some of the most compelling Metroidvania gameplay, great puzzles, colorful visuals, and a serious contender for soundtrack of the year, and you've got yourself one amazing game. Go play SteamWorld Dig 2. You won't regret it. Pros + Fantastic story that will keep you guessing + Large game world to explore with plenty of secrets + Level design is greatly improved and offers a good amount of challenge + Visuals are attractive and vibrant; production value is through the roof + One of the best soundtracks of the year Cons - No placeable items (such as ladders and torches) such as the first game had. This is not a big deal in any way, but I did enjoy that option. Overall Score: 9.5 (out of 10) Fantastic Once again, Image & Form has created something so incredibly polished and special that you could make the argument it's their best game to date. They've upped the ante in almost every way with SteamWorld Dig 2, from expanding the game world, adding great new features, and tying it all up with an excellent story. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using a downloadable code provided by the publisher
  14. 1 point
    Developers: PagodaWest Games, Headcannon Publisher: Sega Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC Release Date(s): August 15th, 2017; August 29th, 2017 (PC) ESRB: E for Everyone Note: This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game Let’s be real for a second; Sonic the Hedgehog hasn’t exactly had the best of luck over the years. Ever since he entered the 3D realm, our favorite supersonic hedgehog has stumbled a few too many times for his own good. That’s not to say that there aren’t any good 3D Sonic games, but… well, let’s just say the blue blur hasn’t exactly had the greatest track record (and I’m not talking about literal track records here, as I’m sure he breaks them all). Sonic the Hedgehog in 2D, however, has almost always been great, at least in my opinion. So, you can imagine my excitement when Sonic Mania was first announced. I’ve awaited a game like this for what feels like an eternity. In fact, I’d say I’ve been waiting for Sonic Mania ever since I beat Sonic 3 & Knuckles, I just didn’t know what it would be called. And once it was released, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in the 90s again. Not only does it feel like a true entry in Sonic’s Genesis era, but with today’s technological advancements, Sonic Mania performs even better, too. Some extremely creative level designs, an insanely good soundtrack, and all the nostalgia you could ever ask for makes Sonic Mania one game no Sonic fan should miss. As with most of the classic Sonic games, Sonic Mania doesn’t really focus too much on story. There is a story being told, but it takes a back seat to just about every other aspect of the game. The gist is that, following the events of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles, Sonic and Tails have noticed a strong energy reading similar to the Chaos Emeralds coming from Angel Island, so they head on over there. Of course, Dr. Eggman (who else?) and the Hard-Boiled Heavies – a group of robots created by the bad doctor – noticed the signal too, so they made sure to get there first. What they find is a gem known as the Phantom Ruby, which enables Eggman and the Heavies with immense power, including the ability to warp Sonic & co. through time and space. And thus, the possibility to replay old stages becomes possible. Sonic Mania is more than just a collection of old levels, of course. While the development team most definitely repurposed some of the old levels’ designs, they also made sure to change some things. For example, while the Act 1 stages of the classic zones are very reminiscent to the originals, Act 2 tends to be a brand-new level entirely. Aside from that, there are also some new zones you will only see in Sonic Mania (at least for now). And if I’m being honest here, I’d even wager that the newer stuff has the better level design (please don’t kill me…). As for how Sonic Mania controls, it’s exactly what you would expect. From the simple running, jumping, and spin-dashing mechanics to Tails flying and Knuckles gliding and climbing, the game really feels like you’re playing Sonic 3 & Knuckles again, but with a different lineup of levels. The power-ups from Sonic 3 & Knuckles even make a nice comeback. There is a new mechanic, however, that helps Sonic Mania stand out a bit more – the Drop Dash. Basically, while Tails can fly & Knuckles can glide, Sonic can now dash immediately after dropping to the ground after a jump. It can be very useful if you get the hang of it, although until I figured out how to use it, I sometimes found myself drop-dashing accidentally to unfortunate consequences. Speaking of things from Sonic 3 & Knuckles that have returned for Sonic Mania: love it or hate it, the blue sphere special stages are back. They don’t unlock Chaos Emeralds this time, however. Instead, upon clearing these special stages, you earn silver medals when hitting all blue spheres and gold for also collecting the rings. Collect enough medals and you start unlocking additional features, such as moves from previous games, Debug Mode and the much-needed “& Knuckles” Mode, a feature that allows you to have Knuckles tag along on your adventure, even if you’re playing as Knuckles. Because if there’s one team-up I always wanted to see, it’s Knuckles & Knuckles. While the blue sphere special stages don’t unlock Chaos Emeralds, they aren’t the only special stages in this game. Finding a giant ring hidden in each stage will warp you to a new type of special stage exclusive to Sonic Mania where you must catch a UFO and take the emerald from its grasp, collecting blue spheres to gain speed and rings to not run out of time. I actually found these special stages quite enjoyable, with a definite Sonic Jam/Sonic R vibe going on. And like with any type of special stage, they get harder and more frustrating, which can get annoying when you have to keep looking for the giant rings in order to retry the stages after failing. But it’s all worth it in the end, once you can become Super Sonic and fight the true final boss of the game. There’s not a ton to say about the graphics aside from it being like Sonic 3 & Knuckles, but better. And I found that delightful. As a long-time fan of the game (and the series in general, of course), I just love how similar it looks. Obviously, the resolution is higher and the overall quality is better since it can be. And I was impressed by how seamlessly the development team could create new levels that look exactly like something from Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Like, seriously, these levels don’t look out of place at all. If you’re a sucker for nostalgia, then Sonic Mania will have no trouble satisfying you. The music, though. THE MUSIC, THOUGH. Seriously, Sonic Mania not only lives up to the awesomeness of the classic games it borrows levels from by remastering certain songs we all remember from those games, but the remixes used in the Mania-exclusive Act 2 stages of some of those zones and the songs written for the brand-new zones are just pure gold. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that Sonic Mania has my all-time favorite soundtrack of any Sonic game ever. And that’s really saying something. Of course, it certainly helps that many of my favorite Sonic tunes have returned in Sonic Mania. I realize I haven’t said a whole lot about the negatives in Sonic Mania. But there’s a reason; I simply can’t think of that many. I remember one time when the game glitched on me and somehow replaced the jumping sound effect with the ring one, which was weird. I also ran into a glitch in a certain new stage right before the boss that kept the boss from showing up, thus keeping me from progressing until I either ran out of time or killed myself. Other than that, there are a few annoyances that carried over from the classics, such as abruptly and unfairly getting crushed to death. And if you’re one of those people who didn’t care too much for the stop-and-go style of classic Sonic games, this game probably won't change your mind. For the longest time, I’ve considered Sonic 3 & Knuckles to be my favorite Sonic game of all time. But now that I’ve played Sonic Mania, I’m not so sure anymore. The game has its share of glitches, but they are few and far between and takes nothing away from what makes the game so good. With some level designs so good I might even consider them the series’ best, graphics that make the game look like a Genesis game with higher resolution, and possibly my favorite soundtrack of any Sonic game ever, Sonic Mania is one hell of a comeback. If you’re a fan of the classic Sonic games, you owe it to yourself to get this game. You won’t regret it. I promise. Pros + Incredible level design that might even top the classics + Fun special stages with plenty to unlock + Delightfully retro graphics style + Amazing soundtrack that is hard to stop listening to Cons - A few minor glitches - Some frustrations passed down from the classics Overall Score: 9 (out of 10) Fantastic A wonderful throwback to Sonic's Genesis days, Sonic Mania is a fantastic game and a strong contender for best Sonic game of all time, thanks to some incredible level design, a delightfully retro graphics style, and an amazing soundtrack. This is one game no Sonic fan should miss out on.
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