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Found 13 results

  1. Nearly a year after its initial release, SEGA has announced today that Sonic Mania will be getting an all-new edition of the game called Sonic Mania Plus. This new version will not only be the first real physical version of the game, it also includes a SEGA Genesis reversible cover (for those nostalgic for old Genesis boxart covers), a 32-page art book, and two new characters: Ray the Flying Squirrel and Mighty the Armadillo. The latter might be more familiar to longtime Sonic fans, since Mighty appeared in Knuckles' Chaotix on SEGA's short-lived 32X add-on for the Genesis. But both characters first appeared in a Japanese-only arcade game called SegaSonic the Hedgehog (no, I'm not making this up!). SEGA says there is "more" to the game as well, leading us to believe they'll reveal more info leading up to its release. In the meantime, you can look forward to playing Sonic Mania Plus when it releases this Summer on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch. Source: SEGA (via Twitter) Are you interested in Sonic Mania Plus and its new additions?
  2. Jason Clement

    Game of the Year 2017: Jason's Picks

    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. YukiKairi

    Game of the Year 2017: Kairi's Picks

    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.
  4. Jordan Haygood

    Game of the Year 2017: Jordan's Picks

    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.
  5. Jonathan Higgins

    Game of the Year 2017: Jonathan's Picks

    “2017 in video games” is probably the most I’ve felt like a kid in a candy store since I'd actually been one. There’s so much greatness, I didn’t even get to everything I wanted to. Games like Giga Wrecker, Pyre, and Hollow Knight are on my to-do list rather than my Top 10 list. But, c'est la vie! The sheer volume of games I could’ve included absolutely makes up for last year when I stopped at 9. Before I get things rolling, here are my usual precautions and caveats: You won’t find Breath of the Wild on this list. While I’m happy I took a chance on it and saw it through, it absolutely brought me more anxiety than joy. Still, it’s what’s chiefly responsible for me finally beating Majora’s Mask for the first time ever — so, in many ways, I’m grateful. I think this whole “Jonathan feels drained by large-scale games with complex systems” sentiment is what caused me to... not finish every main ending of Nier Automata in time to submit this list, for example. I hereby give every fan of that game permission to publicly shame me, ‘cause I should probably be among you. Related: I didn’t even bother picking up Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and it’s taking me longer than I’d like to mash through Dragon Quest Heroes II — another game that might’ve made this list in some form. Finally: I’m not omitting Pokémon Ultra Sun from my list because of some “rule” like previous years. I enjoyed it — it’s definitely what Sun & Moon should’ve been in the first place, it has its endearing moments, the post-game is phenomenal — but there are a good number of games released this year that are better than it. Is that controversial, coming from me? Without further ado... 10) Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap My first favorite game of 2017... is a remaster of a game from 1989. While some of you may fight me on this, I feel like Lizardcube set a new standard for the “retro remake” fare. Every piece and part of the original release...including cheat codes that are almost thirty years old...is present and accounted for. You can switch between past and present audio and visuals with the press of a button, or adjust individual aspects of these as you see fit in the pause menu. Want a full-blown orchestra behind graphics built for the Master System? That’s your prerogative, friend. The thing that gets me about the “new” Dragon’s Trap is that nothing about the original game was really tampered with. They’ve added a playable lady character and extra flair here and there, but it’s so faithful to the original that mashing that “retro button” would give you the full 1989 experience if you wanted it. Not sure how many remasters out there feel bold enough to have so much faith in the original text that they’d fully include it within modern wrappings. While Lizardcube’s endeavors may not be the first of their kind...they’re definitely a first for a smaller crew, without Scrooge McDuck’s money bin or Square-Enix’s notoriety. See also: - Blaster Master Zero: This is another take on “remaster done right”. It modernizes NES gem Blaster Master in every conceivable way: there are many more types of weapons, less restrictive controls, save points galore, an expanded story, and... gosh, the DLC is great. It's got Shovel Knight, y'all. 9) Slime-san Four colors are all developer Fabraz chose to work with. I think the aesthetic choice might turn a handful of folks away, but...there’s definitely more to this arcade-style platformer than meets the eye. You won’t get any Game Overs, but you’ll die & retry ten-thousand times. There’s never any “death screen” or fade-out to distract from the action. If you mess up, the game just plops you at the last “checkpoint” and the action keeps going. The game’s 100 levels are typically divided into about three very quick-paced sections. Bounce your way to the goal before your timer runs out and...intestinal fluids from the giant worm you’re inside catch up to you. Use your...slime powers...to slow down time and make precise jumps, or slurp up a few carefully placed walls. You’ve definitely seen “trial-and-error” style platforming like this before, but… Slime-san’s world and layers of customization are what set it apart from contemporaries. Entire towns filled with...celebrity bird parodies like 'Macawly Culkin', off-shoot arcade games that you use well-hidden coins to purchase, and more...are all trapped inside the worm with you. You can put a bow on your slime or their bird companion if you like, or handfuls of other innocuous costumes. You can even play as one of Slime-san’s family members that alter mechanics in various ways. One lets you jump a lot higher for more air coverage, but you can’t dash as far. Another lets you dash twice, but you can’t jump. There are numerous options available, and the game doesn’t punish you for choosing to play in a particular way. If you give this one a chance, it’s one endearing, weird adventure. See also: - Kirby Blowout Blast: It’s a modernized Kirby’s Dream Land, but arcadey in a different way. There are no Copy Abilities... just handfuls of levels [directly lifted from 1992] built for Kirby to inhale enemies and spit them out in ways that hit multiple other enemies in front of him to stack combos and get the highest scores possible. 8) Yono & the Celestial Elephants I’ve called this one “Elephant Zelda” since I first saw it. Instead of a sword and shield, Yono is armed with just his trunk... and whatever quirky objects he can pick up, drink up, or spit out on his foes. Mechanically, this Switch exclusive is cut from the simplest cloth. Puzzles are tried and true, if not a bit repetitive, and no singular aspect is built for anyone above entry-level to video games as a medium. In terms of its engine and execution, Yono’s journey is short, sweet and relaxed. Despite my five-hour-long run-time, though... there’s plenty of extra stuff to do and find. You can change up Yono’s looks, or dig into the lore of a complex world hidden underneath such a simple game. Niklas Hallin’s writing should not be underestimated. Some of the lines NPCs just casually drop, because Yono comes from a line of creatures celebrated as deities, will definitely make you think. If the cute aesthetics and sense of whimsy don’t reel you in, the depth of the game’s characters and plot absolutely should. For not knowing this game even existed until close to the end of this year, Yono’s journey sure did everything it possibly could to stay fresh in my mind. Plus... I mean, who doesn’t like carrying around a cute hedgehog on your back through an entire dungeon, just because you can? See also: - Blossom Tales: Coming to the Nintendo Switch before this year is over, this Zelda-like from the creators of Rex Rocket is the closest thing you’ll get to A Link to the Past on the newest Nintendo system. While the script isn’t as strong as Yono, the ambiance definitely is — and it’s much closer to traditional Zelda fare. 7) Finding Paradise Both To the Moon and its newly released sequel are story-driven experiences that focus on two doctors... traveling through a dying man's memories, with intent to artificially fulfill his last wish. The former... absolutely wrecked me, like the first ten minutes of Disney Pixar’s Up, or the very end of WALL-E. Soon as I found out Finding Paradise was coming out just days before I was meant to submit my list, I insisted on delaying until I’d played through to the credits. I’m very glad I did. As far as its premise, make no mistake: this is absolutely “To the Moon 2”. But the execution this time around is very different. Tip-toeing around such tiny scripts [this one lasted me no more than five hours] without spoiling is difficult, so pardon my vagueness. To the Moon resonated with me because it made me think critically about the important ways my most cherished loved ones influenced my life, particularly when navigating trauma. Finding Paradise resonates with me because I’m still thinking critically about myself, how I shape my own memories, and the profound ways an active imagination and isolation can play tricks on the mind. You’re still playing as the same two doctors from the first game — but the folks who’ve enlisted them, Johnny and Colin, are two completely different types of people. The strength of both scripts will appeal to different players in many completely different ways. See also: - Rakuen: Bring your tissues, if you’re down for an emotional journey that blends the harsh reality of being a hospital-bound young boy with a world of fantasy, like from a story you might read your own kids. Rakuen was created entirely in RPG Maker, like Finding Paradise. There isn’t any combat to speak of — the primary focus here is on exploration, solving puzzles, and storytelling. The plot expands upon real-world problems of the people around the boy and his mom, through vignettes told in a fantasy world the two can freely travel to and from. Everything is colorful, charming, and... eventually impactful, even heart-breaking. Rakuen is absolutely the most emotional experience I’ve had this year in games. 6) Persona 5 In terms of style, Persona 5 is without peer. You’re not going to find a user-interface quite like it. Menus, scripts, battle animations — everything is wonderfully woven to create the ultimate campy comic book aesthetic that resonated with millions and made this particular Persona title the most successful yet. While I wasn’t so much a fan of being a “Phantom Thief”— the 80 hours I spent absorbing the world was a wholly worthwhile endeavor. And hey — ATLUS continues to be “God-tier” about delivering the best kinds of difficulty options. Safety Mode made the entire game feel the closest to a simple visual novel as it’s ever been, rewarding heaps upon heaps of extra experience points and money, removing all sense of “difficulty” from my journey. But, I had a lot of problems with the game’s writing, particularly regarding both pacing and plot. I’d have put this game a bit higher on the list, for how much I enjoyed the characters, soundtrack, and other things it’s done incredibly well. Constantly flashing back from the point that happens at the game’s opening got tired very quickly. The script didn’t respect players’ intelligence as much as the previous game — whose true ending and villains were hidden underneath a mystery that was up to the player to solve, rather than automatically executed (or painfully obvious). I just think the writing — which is what made me fall in love with Persona 4 Golden when I finally gave it proper time and attention — wasn’t nearly as strong as it could’ve been. If you’re willing to overlook things I’m hesitant to, however, Persona 5 comes highly recommended from me. 5) Chicken Wiggle Official GP Review Of all the games Jools Watsham has his name on, this one’s the most criminally underrated. I feel like the folks at Atooi put everything they’d learned from Mutant Mudds, Xeodrifter, and every other gem in their library into creating what is single-handedly their most refined work. I’ve said it time and time again: Mutant Mudds is one of my favorite games ever. While the mechanics felt a little samey to some, I never had a dull moment. Chicken Wiggle could’ve easily chosen to follow that same philosophy across its 54 story levels, but...instead, it’s chocked full of as many power-ups and level-bending options as anything in Super Mario’s early outings. I’d say a strong argument could be made for every two levels introducing a new type of challenge — whether that takes the form of a suit for the titular chicken-worm duo to wear, something for them to ride in, or some obstacle to overcome. Watsham definitely addressed my one main criticism of Mutant Mudds Super Challenge, that things felt like “more of the same.” This experience is anything but. And there are hundreds of user-made levels to prove it. I think crafting an experience with user-creation in mind actually helped Atooi to stay on its proverbial toes, making sure there was always an opportunity to teach players to look at the creative process of level design in new ways. Having spent hours with Super Mario Maker on Wii U, I can absolutely argue that Chicken Wiggle dares to be comparable. There are a handful of different ways to play, and infinite value in doing so as long as Atooi continues to check up on the community from time to time. The game might not be a huge commercial success for Atooi. But to me, it’s their finest hour. 4) Miitopia Official GP Review This one definitely reminds me of my inclusion of Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past on my list last year. Miitopia is absolutely not a game I can recommend to everyone. It’s got its fair share of flaws (best discussed in my review), but...I’m still playing through it trying for the last handful of particularly cruel achievements. At 103:34 according to my 3DS Activity Log, it bests my total time spent with Breath of the Wild, Persona 5, and Pokémon Ultra Sun so far. Even after I’m done, I’m still going to remember it as one of my most positive experiences on Nintendo 3DS, simply because I got to see a very long story -- with its share of humor, twists, and turns -- play out while starring people I like a whole lot. The value you’ll draw from Miitopia correlates with how personal you decide to make the experience. It is truly the ultimate realization of what the Mii “brand” is capable of—telling a story where the identity of every character, major or minor, is entirely up to the player’s whim. I shared many endearing moments or twists from the plot with my friends in real life, whose Miis I’d cast in various roles. Everyone does this with new games as they all play through them together, on Social Media or otherwise. But few will feel as personal to me... as my fictional journey with friends I don’t get to see too often in the real world. 3) Night in the Woods I know a text has influenced me in profound ways when I find it more difficult to talk about than the rest. When certain emotions swell in me, it's easy for me to reconcile with and transfer to the page: Kirby games make me feel as colorful and bright as they are; a game like Axiom Verge makes me feel pretty unsettled. Night in the Woods... kind of punched me in the gut. I never expected to feel such real emotions from a surreal cast, like this. Everyone involved with the creation of Possum Springs and the vibrant folks that populate it is... so absolutely in-tune with what life is like for small-town folks. This is a story that highlights the almost mundane simplicity of everyday life in a place that doesn't move much, that almost feels isolated from the rest of the world. It's a story that stresses the importance of friendships — every shared moment or shared slices of pizza can have meaning, if you let it. But most importantly: as the story unfolds, and you get to know Mae and everyone around her as each day passes... you start to see how broken everyone is, or feels. And that not everything in such a dullsville town is as it seems. The music, the visuals, the strength of the script... because I found so much I could personally relate to, everything grabbed me. And it’s all honestly yet to let go. If you've had a tough year, or if you've ever felt uncertain about where you are in life... maybe this experience will grab you, too. Maybe the right words for me to say are... that the echoes of Mae’s struggles and everyone around her... make me want to hold onto my loved ones even tighter, next time I see them. 2) Super Mario Odyssey “If Breath of the Wild intimidates you so, how the [redacted] is an open-world Mario so friggin’ high on your list?” While the Kingdoms of Mario Odyssey are indeed large in scale... the systems that guide both Mario and Cappy are anything but complex. Mario doesn’t have to eat fresh meat to survive. Rain doesn’t inhibit Mario’s ability to jump or climb. With the exception of the giant dinosaur... Mario’s abilities don’t degrade or run out. The first few hours of “Breath of the Wild” were something I had to overcome to enjoy. Mario, though? Within minutes...I was right at home. The same muscles I’ve trained since Super Mario 64 were getting their usual workout again. Mechanically, Breath of the Wild set out to reinvent and refresh Zelda. But Odyssey wasn’t out to reinvent anything. Even the capture mechanic is just a modernized means of acquiring something like a fire flower or tanooki suit. It all made me feel comfortable and welcome in every Kingdom that came my way, like I was a tourist. Everything about the full package was indeed utterly refreshing — no hub worlds, no being kicked out of a level back to the start with every moon you’ve acquired, sometimes being able to grab hundreds in one go, etc. But one of my favorite parts about Mario Odyssey is its familiarity. Still, the brand new “worlds” brought about emotions I’ve never felt in a Mario game before. The “New Donk City Festival” totally made the room a little dusty. And the entire endgame is probably one of my personal top 10 moments in all of video games, much less Mario as a series. I was messaging friends in all caps, insisting they let me know whenever they reached a particular moment in the story or the post-game so we could all squeal about it. There is so much to love—lots familiar and nostalgic, lots more brand new and exciting. Odyssey proves that Mario doesn’t need to completely “reinvent the wheel” to feel revolutionary. 1) Sonic Mania Official GP Review I still fight myself on whether or not Christian Whitehead and company actually managed to surpass Sonic 3 & Knuckles, my second favorite game of all time. I think they may have — and just the fact that I’m contemplating this speaks to how strongly I feel about Sonic Mania. Since the Dreamcast era, Sega themselves have always been ultra-concerned with trying to reinvent Sonic in ways—appearance, mechanics, whichever. Sonic Mania proves that going back to the basics is what it takes to make Sonic critically and commercially successful as a brand again. And this group of fans, known in the “Sonic fan-game scene” for a good decade or so, have proven that students can surpass those who inspired them. I was initially a bit concerned when SEGA indicated that it’d be filled with more old levels than brand new ones. But Whitehead and company knew exactly how to mess with players' expectations for both types of Zones. Each and every second “Act” of an old level turns familiar environments on their heads. One of my groomsman and I, who met thanks to a Sonic the Hedgehog 2 message board on GameFAQs (methinks I’m showing my age a bit), stayed up until super late when the game came out, exchanging texts back and forth about the various ways the Sonic Mania team masterfully pulled off its first few zones. There’s just so much care and attention put into the idea of not just creating a good Sonic game, but throwing in things that appeal to longtime or lapsed fans finally making a comeback. Within the first week, I went from having no idea what was in Sonic Mania... to playing so much, so often, that I was able to complete a “No Save file” without breaking a sweat. Every old level subverts expectations. Every new level has brand new surprises that long-time fans will find both fun and captivating. Both old and new work together to create the ultimate “modernization of Classic Sonic” — the 'Genesis feel' that’s so fast, you feel like Sonic’s going to break the game he’s confined in, without any need for a “boost” button. Fully completing the new Mario is held back by troublesome Power Moons, like the infamous jump rope challenge... various bits that feel redundant... almost like padding. The reason I chose to marginally place Mania over Odyssey... is because I’m going to wear this game out. Super Mario Odyssey is a game I’ll replay whenever I feel like taking a trip to new and familiar worlds. Sonic Mania is absolutely going to be a part of my routine — something I mash as much, as often, as Mutant Mudds, Shovel Knight, Cave Story, and the other games in the Jonathan “canon”.
  6. Jordan Haygood

    Review: Sonic Mania

    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.
  7. Jordan Haygood

    Sonic Mania - Stardust Speedway

    From the album: Jordan's Review Images - Part II

    Stardust Speedway & Knuckles.

    © Sega

  8. Jordan Haygood

    Sonic Mania - Special Stage

    From the album: Jordan's Review Images - Part II

    Sonic runs through a special stage to take a chaos emerald from the UFO.

    © Sega

  9. Jordan Haygood

    Sonic Mania - Mirage Saloon Zone

    From the album: Jordan's Review Images - Part II

    Sonic, Tails & Knuckles fly through the deserts of Mirage Saloon Zone on the Tornado.

    © Sega

  10. Jordan Haygood

    Sonic Mania - Green Hill Zone

    From the album: Jordan's Review Images - Part II

    Sonic and Tails run through Green Hill Zone.

    © Sega

  11. Jordan Haygood

    Sonic Mania - Opening

    From the album: Jordan's Review Images - Part II

    The intro to Sonic Mania.

    © Sega

  12. While the recently-named Sonic Forces will be bookending 2017, fans of a more classic, 2D Sonic will be able to get their hands on the upcoming Sonic Mania much sooner. Just... maybe not as soon as you were initially expecting. Sega announced at SXSW 2017 that Sonic Mania will now be releasing sometime in the Summer instead of its original Spring 2017 release date. It's unfortunate for sure, especially considering that many fans are more excited for this one over Sonic Forces due to it being a compilation/remix of levels from the classic 2D Sonic titles, but the good news is the delay isn't too long. Also good news -- Sega announced another classic Sonic stage that would be returning in Sonic Mania: Flying Battery Zone. Fans will likely remember playing the stage from Sonic & Knuckles, along with its catchy theme. Check out footage of the remade Flying Battery Zone below. Hopefully this isn't the last we hear about Sonic Mania for a while. If Sega is following the Super Smash Bros. method of drip-feeding announcements, perhaps it won't be too long before we hear more about the game and its remaining levels. Sonic Mania is coming to PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch this Summer. Source: Polygon Are you disappointed to hear about Sonic Mania's delay?
  13. For those who weren't watching the Sonic 25th Anniversary party last night and somehow didn't catch the news elsewhere, we're getting a new 2D Sonic game in the form of Sonic Mania, and...IT LOOKS FANTASTIC!! From what they talked about, it basically has remixed/reimagined levels from the original Genesis trilogy along with brand new levels. More importantly, it actually looks like a Genesis Sonic game, and I don't mean the graphics. The brief looks at the stage design and physics all point to this being the real Sonic the Hedgehog 4, because it looks like it will play and feel like a classic 2D Sonic game and not a cheap imitation. I'm super excited to play the game when it comes out in Spring 2017, but what about the rest of you? Looking forward to what could be the best Sonic game in years? Not interested because you've been burned by Sonic too many times? Or just don't care either way? Speed down to that reply box to let me know what you think.
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