A common phrase heard this past year was that it stood as “one of the best years for gaming.” Although there was no chance I’d ever be able to play all of the most important games of the past year, I thought it right to reflect on the best games I got a chance to beat this past year. (thus the emissions of big hitters like Persona 5, Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey) In honor of my New Years resolution on writing more about video games, I've decided to compile it as a blog post! Some of the games of the list may not have technically been released this past year, but I'll let them slip through.
I’ve been an avid believer in VR since I first laid my eyes on an Oculus Rift. At the time, dreaming of ever owning it, (or any consequent VR device, HTC Vive, PSVR) seemed like a pipe dream. While I still don’t own any device, I do have the luxury of knowing a friend with the Oculus, and had a chance to play SUPERHOT VR.
Jumping into the game just works. From its first moment, SUPERHOT VR introduces you to the world of brief unrelenting violence. The endless white you’re surrounded in only serves to emphasize the dark contrast of the sleek black pistol in front of you. An implicit connection seems to be made between your hands and the gun; as they stand as the only bold dark colored objects in the space, asserting them as the players domain. You reach out to it, realizing you can grasp black objects in your hands as the rest of the level materializes. Suddenly, your gun is pointed at a faceless red figure standing right in front of you. The connection is made to pull the trigger, and so begins your foray into SUPERHOT’s stilted violence.
Each level is a joy to pull apart and figure out the best approach to tackle the puzzle of survival. Since every movement you take passes time, the natural timer both pushes you to make quick deliberate decisions, and punishes you for making too many mistakes. Each level builds onto itself to create a full scenario, where any death forces you back to the start. This keeps the tension high as progression becomes precious with the increasing complexity of the levels puzzles. Tension only serves to make each win bigger, and importantly make you feel like a complete badass in the process.
By the end of my time with SUPERHOT VR, it’s. It stands as a testament to why VR is so exciting as a future direction for video games and why I’ll continue to be a fan.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
Fire Emblem stands out as on my personal favorite series of all time. I’ve played through all of the American releases and all but one of the Japanese releases (I’ll get to you one of these days Thracia 776). The Echoes sub-series excited me from the start since I’d be able to experience the reimaginings of some of the original Fire Emblem titles without having to work around the various versions out there.
It stands out as a callback to the difficulty found in some of the previous games, and rehauls some of the gameplay mechanics established in the last two games. By removing the team-up advantage introduced in Awakening, Shadows of Valentia is able to transform a great idea with poor execution into a better balanced one through game mechanics.
Not since Sacred Stones have I enjoyed and been captivated by the full-cast of characters. Instead of plot taking a backseat to the heroic feats of the characters, the story develops naturally with the players actions on the in-game world. Town and dungeon exploration, while rudimentary, give a welcome break to the flow of battles. You’re allowed to stock up on any needed supplies and train any character who may have fallen behind in levels. Exploration of towns is encouraged with the character recruitment, area unlocks and character dialogue as rewards.
Not to mention the insane replayability that comes with postgame content of further battles and leveling of your characters. In what may be the last year of the 3DS receiving a final influx of great games, Shadows of Valentia stands as a fantastic entry in the series before making the shift to the Switch.
Horizon Zero Dawn
Combine Monster Hunter-like combat with post-apocalyptic mechanization gives you Horizon Zero Dawn. The insane elation of finally striking down a Thunderjaw after having carefully planned out an attack, only to scrap it all when shit hits the fan is one of the best gaming experiences of 2017. Each machine feels like a fully realized beast with dedicated habitats, mannerisms, and even walking patterns. Despite its “man vs machine” appearance, these details ground the central combat in “man vs nature” and more importantly in “man & nature”. Aloy’s own tenuous connection with her tribe contrasted with her immediate gravitation to the foreign tech allows you to develop a spiritual connection to the machines and landscape they inhabit.
Not only that, but Aloy stands as one of the most compelling protagonists in the past year. Her motivations fuel her actions and thoughts, instead of being contrived for plot convenience. Despite having every reason to indulge in selfishness and ignore the plight of those around her, Aloy chooses to help those in need. An almost unwilling hero, the only thing she seeks is the truth behind her past. Despite being bombarded by doubt and criticism by nearly everyone she encounters, she earns their respect through her tough, fair character and ability to get the job done. There is even room for the personalization of Aloy’s character through some basic dialogue choices thrown throughout.
World-building is done right in this game as the massive map doesn’t feel like a barren wasteland. Each square inch is vibrant and full of life ranging from the icy tundras of her homeland to the harsh desert lands surrounding Merridan. The fauna, wildlife and collectible resources all contribute to the breathing world. An open-world game that deserves to stand next to the other greats, Horizon Zero Dawn is one of 2017’s most exciting new IPs.
“You’re a squid, you’re a kid” was one of the last few games released on the Wii U before its early demise. The original Splatoon showed a lot of promise and utilized the Wii U tablet as a integral departure from other controllers, instead of as a gimmick. Splatoon 2 isn’t the kind of sequel that drastically departs from the original, instead it takes the existing structure and refines it.
Shooting and movement mechanics are as tight as ever as you slip and slide your way along the maps, outsmarting and out maneuvering your opponents. With an additional cooperative mode added in in the form of Salmon Run, you can take a break from the Splatfest to work a minimum pay job! Although Miiverse may be gone Splatoon 2 is able to retain the same community posts around the plaza that made for so much community entertainment and culture. The story itself remains a fun romp as they take a few risks with the outcome of the original duo: Callie and Marie. Each level builds upon the ideas of the last and, quite frankly, reaches heights of stellar movement and level design that have not been attained in the multiplayer portion of the game.
With continued support throughout the past year in the form of new weapons and Splatfests, Splatoon 2 is one that I’ve kept coming back too throughout the year. I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
I know what you’re thinking, isn’t this essentially a re-release of a 3 year old game? Well yes it is, but since the deluxe edition was released this past year, it can count as a 2017 release. This compilation takes one of the best Mario Kart entries yet and combines it with all of it’s DLC in one portable package. That alone would be cause enough to celebrate a release, but the perfect pairing between Deluxe and the Switch pushes it into new territory.
The ability to always have two controllers on-hand makes it the perfect co-op or couch-based game, since you never have to lug around a second controller or hope the other person has one. Battle mode has made a comeback from the largely lackluster release of Mario Kart 8. Addressing the largest issue of map selection by adding 10 custom-made courses for battle mode is a godsend. Now each battle match is a fun barrage of items and karts flying all over the place as you do your best to screw over your friends.
Although all the tracks are unlocked from the get-go, progression can still be found in unlocking all the car parts. With all of the base and DLC parts included in the random selection, you’ll have plenty of reason to keep coming back to run a couple of more races. This cart was never too far from my Switch throughout the year and my go-to game to play a couple of quick matches with friends. In this release Mario Kart 8 Deluxe cements itself as the best Mario Kart entry to date.
Okay here’s another game that isn’t quite a 2017 release but, it was the first year it dropped on the PS4 and PS Vita (The best way to play this game) so I feel it’s only fair to include it on my list.
You would think that this game, with it’s brutal difficulty and RNG, would give you a frustrating experience. Instead Darkest Dungeon blends the reliability of roguelikes, with the crushing difficulty and oppressive atmosphere of Lovecraft, into a succinct package. Each dungeon trek keeps you grounded and purposeful, with mission objectives guiding you towards what needs to be accomplished. Starting off with your first group of adventures you remain optimistic and hopeful for their own future and your progression into the game. But as you descend down each dungeon, battling illness, monsters and traps, stress inches it’s way in. As your characters slowly begin to lose light and resolution they will be tested in their moment of high stress. More often than not they’ll be struck with affliction rather than be virtuous.
Similarly the player is tested to see if they’re able to handle the various things thrown at them, with challenges including finding the right time to retreat or proceed. It’s because of these lows that the successes come with such elation and relief. Hard work, and oftentimes dead adventurers have been the price paid for progression in a dungeon. But therein lies the beauty of the game. There are consequences to be paid for over-reaching, and rewards to be reaped for careful play. Sometimes though, life screws you over regardless of the risks you choose not to take. Importantly, what matters most is how you deal with the resulting fallout.
It’s not a game that I can sit down and binge through to completion. It lends itself to the nature of advancing and progressing bit by bit over the course of a few days or weeks. The narrative itself is nothing special, but it leaves enough mystery to keep you wondering about the context of such evil monsters and the greater role you play in all of this.
It wasn’t until the third playthrough of this game that I realized it had cemented itself as one of my top games of all time.
Although I had played the original bayonetta around the time of its’ release, it didn’t much captivate me. Although the combat was fun, at the time it was a bit too difficult for me with the precise timing required of dodging. I came back to it years later and finished it in the span of two days. I was hooked. I kept looking for other games that would scratch that same combo-heavy, mechanically-demanding slick gameplay. I found Vanquish, Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden, and while all great fun, none of them quite made me the way Bayonetta had.
When I picked up Bayonetta 2 last year (late to the party I know, but money can be hard on the new game department) I realized what it was that differentiated Bayonetta for me. The few fucks that both Bayonetta, and the game gave made it obvious that they weren’t trying to take themselves too seriously. Instead they both choose to revel in the bombastic action. Running at 60 FPS on the Wii U, Bayonetta slides across the screen with the slick movement she was deprived of in the original Bayonetta. Each combo dropped is not the games fault, but your own personal failure. This makes every personal success that much sweeter as you finally are able to take out a boss without so much as taking a scratch.
It sits at around 9 hours long which is quite a bit longer than other games in the same genre, but no part of it feels as if it drags on unnecessarily. There are plenty of weapons and new attacks to buy throughout the game that allow for a wide range of creativity in which battles are approached. Appropriately placed exploration areas exist in-between battles so as to never overwhelm you with action. Bayonetta 2 stands as an amazing sequel and surpasses it’s successor in scope and execution.