GOTY 2017

Greetings and thank you for stopping by to read my 2017 Games of the Year list. I apologize for being late in getting my list published but I am sure as is the case with everyone else, 2017 was a very challenging year in multiple facets that made it hard for me to get my gaming priorities in order. Nonetheless, I have toughed out my own challenges in order to share my thoughts on what was an impeccable year of gaming that I was glad to play my fair share of games.

List items

  • [#15]

    Fire Emblem Echoes at the surface looked to reign in on some of the eccentricities that started Awakening with its matchmaking mechanic and then further pushed it down hard with Fates that spanned three long-sprawling campaigns and questionable story and character writing. Gone are team-ups and matching characters together for boosts, along with the franchises famed weapon triangle system and other battle adages and in comes a more stripped down game with a neat overworld and dungeon crawling elements. At first, it felt like the Fire Emblem game that I wanted, a Fire Emblem game without the baggage. Eventually, Echoes turns up the fire and that’s where I felt the game’s burn.

    FE Echoes’s story and characters may be dry to some, I appreciated that it never got in your way compared to how in your face Fates was. The overworld element was neat as you go from point to point, seeing what places and battles are ahead. The dungeon crawling elements is also a neat function where you venture through a simple dungeon choosing to battle elements if you choose to while gaining items and/or promoting classes if there’s a Mila Statue. There are also optional side quests that you can partake that mostly consist of simple item gathering or dungeon challenges that gain you rewards and renown. I also welcome the streamlined class system, though it seems that’s more toward the game locking in characters as a part of their story and at the expense of Awakening and Fates free ability to swap a characters class at will to diversify their character’s skill sets.

    I feel the battles don’t lose their strategic impact with the loss of the weapon triangle. The strategy of avoiding characters with low magic resistance against magic enemies and vice versa still reigns true. My main problem with Echoes are its combination of map and enemy composition. There are many instances where the enemy composition and their map positions, the player only options is to not advance, but instead to hunker down. Other maps have the player go through many chokepoints in order to reach and confront the boss(es). All boss battles include a mage enemy that spawns additional enemies at every opportunity that always breaks the “this is unfair” needle constantly until they are defeated, which typically happens toward the end of the battle as they are always positioned next to the boss. It was fine to throw these type of challenging battles once in awhile, but to have them thrown in constantly just grinded my enjoyment of Echoes down considerably.

    It’s a shame because I love everything else that Echoes does. The dry, stripped feel of Echoes was a breath of fresh air that I felt was necessary for the franchise that I thought went in a dangerous direction with Fates. Echoes may not jive with those who enjoyed and built upon their play with Awakening and Fates with the lack of character class change freedom and no weapon triangle in play as this game is massive correction to what they were building upon. I wish I could place a stronger recommendation to FE fans that were looking for a cleaner game if they were unhappy with the Fates games; instead I’ll have to issue a buyer beware as Echoes truly pushes the limits on how challenging FE battles can be.

  • [#14]

    Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle immediately made a strong impression as I was amazed on how well the streamlined XCOM battle gameplay came out to be. I was looking forward to each impeding battle to survey the battlefield, pick the members best suited to tackle each battle, and see how it played out. It was all swell until the party limitations and battles becomes more outrageous that my amazement turned over into beeline to get through the battles and worlds as soon as possible. While it’s a shame that the game could not hold onto its early success, the game still left a positive impression that I felt to give it merit.

    It’s a bit comedic when the game plays out so well early on but then loses it as it builds upon its base. Early on, the battles were fun to play because it allowed the player to succeed in a variety of ways based on party composition, playstyle, and strategy around the battlefield and how the battles shaked out. It lost me when more members were introduced but yet the restriction of having Mario as a permanent member of your party of three and restricting having an all Mario party combined with the sudden ramp up in map size, complexity, and amounts of enemies to battle on stage. The adventure portion of the game also lost its novelty when the puzzles transition from small, simple ones to overly tedious ones that compounded my frustrations as I progressed. The battle controls, while not complex, is not quite as smooth and clear as it is as there were many instances where an mistaken input would take action with no way to double check or revert the mistaken action that took place.

    In spite of all of its flaws, there was strong promise with the battle system and RPG elements along with some neat story moments sprinkled throughout the game that I was still happy with the product. The game’s presentation is solid with colors abound all over added with an impressive soundtrack. I wouldn’t mind another attempt if Ubisoft was able to tweak out the party restrictions and smoothed out the battle challenges. Where else would you get an opera singing Rabbid completely dissing Mario in song?

  • [#13]

    Despite being placed low on this list, Sonic Mania exceeded my expectations considering that I was more or less lukewarm with the other Sonic games that I have played under my belt. What struck me so much with Sonic Mania is both its adherence to classic 2D Sonic yet pulling off awesome new content to produce a new game off of it. From afar, it’s fantastic to hear fans of the original games come back and sing praises for the game to take it back to its roots and celebrate a good Sonic game for once. For me, I was glad to partake what Sonic Mania delivered, faults and all.

    The biggest mental adjustment I had to make while playing Sonic Mania is that Sonic is less reliant on constant precision and recollection of the level that I grew accustomed to with the 2D Mario and the recent 2D Rayman games, and more about rolling through the stages as fast as you can. I always liked Sonic’s stages for having multiple paths depending on where you land at a certain part of a stage. Sometimes you maintain that top Sonic momentum and stay at the higher planes of the stages, other times you find yourself struggling to get out the bottom planes. Hidden in-between are a number of small secret rooms with rings and power-ups as well as finding and acquiring those darn chaos emeralds, in which I enjoyed the Sonic R-esque track collecting speed-ups to catch up to a UFO. I did what I could to enjoy Mania as much as I could in spite of my personal struggles in playing a Sonic game.

    Nonetheless, Sonic Mania still triumphs by sticking true to its roots while adding a colorful splash of awesome presentation in terms of how beautiful and bursting each level looked with a groovy, spectacular soundtrack to boot. I enjoyed the themes and level design of each act, finding out if there are any secrets and where the stage would led me next, as well as the easter eggs and nods to the previous Sonic games such as the Green Hill, Chemical Zone, Metal Sonic, the mini-games, and even a surprise boss fight involving Puyo Puyo. Mania threw out a lot of neat things that gave me newfound appreciation and enjoyment of the franchise.

  • [#12]

    Gravity Rush 2 is what Gravity Rush 1 should have been. I strongly felt Gravity Rush 1 was hampered by being shoehorned as a Vita showcase with a lot of control design issues that really hampered the promising gameplay. Many improvements I felt 2 had over 1 was a result of the game being on a console instead of a handheld. I immediately felt the game breaking out of its Vita shell and feeling more free-flowing as I flew through the various environments in GR2’s world. Sadly, in spite of all the apparent benefits and improvements as a result of the platform transition, the setbacks that made the game hard to play in GR1 sadly carry over and did made a considerable impact on my enjoyment of GR2.

    The promising aspects of GR1: the sensation of flying above town and to and from different areas, standing on the undersides of structures, and utilizing Kat’s powers for combat and assists, are more realized as I watched it in front of a television playing it through a PS4 controller. GR’s world also benefits from the transition and each area shows more flash and personality that could not be realized on the Vita. Aside the benefits derived from the platform transition, GR2’s other biggest improvement its better mission and side quest construction that better highlights and utilizes Kat’s abilities. My personal favorite Gravity Rush 2 moments always consist of tasks that makes sure of the beautiful transitions between the city hierarchies.

    The developers were not deaf to the combat and camera issues that plagued the first game and did their best to rectify, but I feel the tools and resolutions they came out did not fully solve those issues. The camera continues to be the biggest offender even if there is a quick realign button, but fails to keep up especially during tough aerial battles. The overall combat is slightly improved through the use of the different styles but again, fails once the combat requires constant action and precision. GR2’s story, while not bad and touches upon inequalities, doesn’t feel integral with the game even if it does pull a surprise stunt at the end.

    Gravity Rush 2 still manages to be an enjoyable experience with the numerous improvements and presentation that is more realized with in spite of the problems from the first game that they were quite able to fully resolve here. I can tell the developers made a strong attempt to make Gravity Rush 2 the best game they could develop with the power of the PS4 and though with its flaws, feels more of the game they hoped it would be in the first place.

  • [#11]

    It’s been refreshing to see the growth of strong, self-contained, short games that makes an impeccable statement to show with its short playtime in the past couple of years in the world of gaming. What Remains of Edith Finch continues that trend by telling an intriguing set of short stories encapsulated in a house over the mysterious passings of the Finch family. Though the quality and lengths of each short story vary, I came away impressed with the overwhelming amount of creativity and imagery throughout the game’s short time.

    I was immediately drawn in with the first stories where one family member who was hungry for food went into a surreal amorphous trip to stress how hungry she was and the other harking in a Tales from the Crypt style storytelling to detail her curse. Both stories gave an early hint of some sort of mythical curse that befell on the family. Subsequent stories were still engaging but lost the mysticism that the game’s earlier story alluded to turned into a bunch of crazy bad luck circumstantial instances. Other standout shorts are one involving the fish work and the interruption in the middle of the elder family member story was a nice touch.

    There were many small touches here and there that added to the game’s top-notch storytelling and charm with Edith’s soothing narration with her words appearing and interacting along with it. Edith sketching in portraits of her family members after retelling their stories in her journal was always neat to watch. I loved that each room served as an initial cue to what type of story and person’s story that we were going to delve into. The developers did a great job making you as a member of the family, playing out their stories and fates. While Edith Finch lacks the overall punch in my eyes to compete some of the other games further up my list, it more than makes up for it by telling an excellent batch of stories that showcases the developer’s excellent writing knacks and strong vision for what they wanted to produce.

  • [#10]

    Clap Handz continues to make it work somehow. Though the core Hot Shots Golf gameplay comes back the same tried and true three-click button mechanic, they changed up the player progression by having them play as their own created character and their stats reflecting on performances with the golf club used. Things look bleak as it took a lot of early grinding playing the same set of holes early on to even unlock other courses, but once the courses open up and your player builds up some significant stats, that’s where Everybody’s Golf opens up close to an arcade-like experience where you can easily plug in a good round to get your gaming fill for the day. Everybody’s Golf became my go too “cool down” game of the year, which I always appreciate have this type of game to fall upon per year.

    The two things I feel that makes Everybody’s Golf succeed in getting me back day to day are its single player and online tournaments. I love that they continually mix up both offline and online tournaments on a constant basis to keep things fresh and on your toes in terms of what tees, holes, and other intangibles are into play. Online tournament play works surprisingly well as they hold daily courses with bonuses that the game’s player always gravitates to. Battles against computer AI characters are still fun, but lose their steam here as you only get their clothes as awards for defeating them instead of unlocking them as a playable character per previous franchise custom. I looked forward to spending a little bit of my time playing the next set of offline and online tournaments with whatever conditions the game crops up.

    It helps that in spite of the gameplay remains strong in spite of being the same old three-click swing style that the Hot Shots franchise has run on since its inception, with the only neat addition is adding the third click for putting. The courses are still well designed and gives the player plenty of options to either play it safe or aggressively depending on the tee and conditions. Do you play it safe and land it on the wide, open fairway or do you think you can manage to land on the skinnier fairway landing point further away? Everybody’s Golf play does not get much deeper than it gets as an arcade sports game, but it does a great job with its engaging simplicity that gets you back in on a frequent basis.

    There comes a time with these type of games where they finally wear out their welcome. Eventually the leveling up comes to a grinding halt up to a certain point for your character, and the courses and challenge rotations just aren’t that enticing to play against anymore. Everybody’s Golf also suffers from a terrible grinding “end game” if you want to grind your character and custom clubs to score constant Albatrosses on Par 4s and 5s. Otherwise, this was my perfect game to just jump in, have fun, then jump out.

  • [#09]

    Super Mario Odyssey was not quite the “odyssey” that I hoped the game would typically carry on from its fantastic predecessors. I did not mind the aspect of Mario quickly jumping from one kingdom to another while in pursuit of rescuing Peach from Bowser and get a quick feel of collecting moons and using Cappy’s ability to capture enemies to use them for their particular objectives. What I felt was short changed in Odyssey with its mainline content is the lack of challenge and build-up to Bowser and that more of its appeal was on the number of kingdoms and the allure to find moons by any means necessary post-game. That’s not to say Super Mario Odyssey is bad, it’s an excellent game; I was not quite enamored with the finding power moons in a bunch of playgrounds feel even if I’m still playing the game today to collect them little by little.

    Odyssey’s greatest strength is allowing the player the freedom to attain power moons by their own leisure. There is no one way to acquire many of the moons scattered through each kingdom. Utilizing Cappy’s abilities in both its capture and Mario assistance is an awesome extension to Mario’s skillset and neat that it completely forgoes the usual Mario power-ups of mushrooms, fire flowers, feathers, stars, and extra lives. The decision to forgo lives and only losing ten coins upon loss of all health also helps making the player at ease and continue onward to their exploration without the additional tension of lives to account for. I also love the numerous cues that there is a possible moon nearby from a quick conversation to NPCs, to the sparkling glow around objects and NPCs, down to the use of the Joycon’s rumble. All of these goes to show the intellect and creativity that Nintendo has down pat in locking down the game they want player to play in. Keeping each kingdom’s area pretty small and packing what they can within the allotted space they had with each kingdom is another tip of the cap that helps players stay within an area without worrying about anything substantial somewhere elsewhere in many vast open-world games.

    My main grievance with Odyssey is its adventure portion of chasing after Bowser felt underwhelming from start to finish. The Terribles that serve as Bowser’s mini-bosses do not show as much personality and ingenuity that past Mario mini-bosses had and their battles are likewise equally as disappointing even with some impressive scenes sprinkled throughout the main game portion (Jump Up Odyssey, controlling Bowser at the end). Other inconveniences that I encountered were the use of a few abilities locked to motion controls (particularly the cap spin) and fighting the camera at times but that comes with the territory in 3D open world games. None of my gripes with the game are game-breaking or terrible to a point that would sour everyone’s experience, it just did not impress me as much as I thought it would do coming into it.

    It’s still a Mario game that showcases Nintendo’s continued creative and technical excellence and should be experienced by everyone. Your mileage may vary on how much you dig with Mario’s free, jam-packed playground style. I’m still playing to get more moons to unlock the final kingdoms and items, but not that into it where I can sink a considerable amount of time in a session to go through every nook and cranny crammed into its game.

  • [#08]

    If I were to solely judge Persona 5 just on its technical aspects, I would easily rank it as the best Persona game out of the three games I have played in the franchise. But Persona is solely not about how awesome it’s style is, or how engaging it’s persona and battle systems are, but a culmination of great style, gameplay, story, and characters. Persona 5’s style and gameplay easily holds up their end of the bargain and carries the bulk of the game’s excellence while the intangibles are oddly the ones that blocks its ceiling to being one of the true standout game of the year. Despite its glaring flaws, Persona 5 as a whole stills packs a strong punch that has a lot of great things to show during its lengthy playtime.

    Persona 5’s story and characters are a large reason why it could not reach to its full potential. Not to say neither portion of the game is terrible that would make anyone quit the game instantly, but both areas are lackluster compared to the highs reached in previous Persona entries and to other games released this year. The theme had a ton of promise with its rebellious tone against the atrocities to society and in particular, people in highly regarded and respected positions abusing their powers. I felt by the end the game’s sheer scope weighed down its rebellious bite in trying to shoo in all of its characters in play. The main cast of characters feel as if they are just in a gang with each forthcoming dungeon fighting against their adversaries who are written as just plain evil without any merit. There’s simply not much to find within P5’s story and characters that make them likeable or at least interesting to venture along with.

    In lieu of P5’s lackluster cast and story, it more than makes up for it with its abundance of excellent gameplay content to dive into. The usual side quests of meeting up with your team members and other important acquaintances on the MC’s spare time that rewards the player with meaningful benefits the stronger their connection with their confidants are. Momentos is another great side quest that is a neat side, self-contained dungeon on its own along with a neat gameplay tie-in with confidants. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a ton of mini-games that include fishing, batting cages, eating contests, etc. that also tie-in with the MC and confidant functions. That’s all on top of the game’s top-notch main gameplay of revamped dungeon mechanics along with some smart additions and tweaks to Persona’s tried and true press-turn battle system. There’s no shortage of what you can do with your time in P5.

    Sure, Persona 5 was a let down coming from the highs of Persona 4 but it was not a complete disappointment that a few would shout it was. The cast and stories around its theme could not carry its weight, but you cannot deny all of the wonderful improvements made on the gameplay front that the Persona team outdid themselves in this game. Along with their over-the-top efforts in presentation with the heavy red-colored theme, unbelievable menu looks and transitions, and awesome jazz/rock centric soundtrack still makes Persona 5 a worthy game of the year. It’s not the best Persona game, but I can easily say it’s the best playing Persona game of all.

  • [#07]

    The venerable map-drawing, dungeon-crawling, deceptively addicting JRPG returns flexing its muscles that somehow keeps it together despite undergoing drastic changes from EO4. The important areas that resonates with me so much in EO4 mostly retain their charms in EO5 with mixing and matching your party that can cover as many bases as you can against the hordes of enemies along with engaging floor designs that are fun to venture and map out on the 3DS touch screen. My biggest issue with EO5 is the particular areas that they flexed their muscles on make this Etrian Odyssey adventure more like a rugged, no-thrills business-like trip rather than a relatively challenging yet pleasant one.

    EO5 is a game that went back to its roots, removing the overworld labyrinth format that EO4 work on, and returning to the floor format that the first three games ran on. Also gone are the story-driven, hand-holding options that they worked into in their Untold versions of the first two Etrian games and only have the classic mode running with a choice of two difficulties. It’s also the game that they broke open the floodgates with tedious floor puzzles, the class skill trees that includes class-centric and race-centric skills to build on, and battles that can easily turn on you quickly. All of the changes make EO5 feel more of a challenge of veterans to chew on than newcomers, where the overwhelming amount of setup needed to start and to stick with the grind and the challenges with battles, party management, inventory management, and dealing with the floor’s puzzles, traps, and FOE paths could prove too tough to some. I felt the burn early and never lets up the pressure.

    Even with all of the information overload, Etrian Odyssey V can still produce that adventurer magic when things are rolling, such as rolling through battles with ease, getting through a tough section of a floor, succeeding in completing a mission or side quest, etc. EO5’s smarter tweaks and additions along with its classic RPG gameplay give the player the choice to spec their party that suits their playstyle, the union system in battle to give the player an additional play to aid them in battle, and more robust icons that increase the amount of detail the player can choose to detail their floor maps, which is needed considering some of the puzzles the game pulls in its later floors. It’s on you if you come unprepared on a floor or onto a battle, but sometimes the game’s floor puzzles and battles (especially the bosses and a few FOEs) pits you in unfavorable positions that ruins some of that adventurer high that still can be had here.

    As I finally defeated the final main boss that took close to two hours of time to defeat, I did not come away with an overwhelming feeling of triumph as I did at the end of EO4. It was more of an exhausted sigh, glad to have finally defeated that beast but felt the wear and tear of the game’s harsh difficulty throughout my EO5 journey. I hate to make a similar comparison with another gaming franchise on what I thought of between EO4 and EO5. If this makes any sense to anyone, I’d say Etrian Odyssey 4 is like Streets of Rage 2 while Etrian Odyssey 5 is like Streets of Rage 3. It’s still fantastic and retains most of what made the franchise work, but some choice designs and increased difficulty make it harder to enjoy.

  • [#06]

    The curse of a fighting game fan is knowing that sometime in the future, doesn’t matter how near or how far, you’ll know that half-step, upgrade release is around the corner. REV2 is the third iteration of Guilty Gear Xrd, which started with SIGN in late 2014 with REVELATOR following in mid-2016. REV2 is not the same massive jump content-wise that REVELATOR had from SIGN, the only content additions seen are two new characters, revamped tutorials, some end-story junk, and various balance changes. Though I am not a die-hard fighting fan, I can see that REV2 is a completely new game under the hood. That and a little bit of help from friendly group of duders helped make my experience with REV2 this year more realized.

    REV2’s new content is not much on a quantitative scale, the impact of the new content in is significant. The combination of adjusted mechanics, character changes, and adding in two characters breaks forces players to learn a combination of new strategies, attack routes, etc. as they learn what’s new/changed with their character and how others are using whatever characters they are playing as. In note of all the unseen intricacies, one of REV2’s impressive content feature is its revamped introductory training and training missions, which goes into rich detail on what little things that occur during battle, what to look for, then asking you to execute them. For those really struggling to come to grips with REV2, they even include an FAQ that gives new players tips on the fundamental aspects of the game. The developers care enough for those willing to try out their game all the information in the world in hopes they can at least get a solid beginning grip.

    Not much has changed aesthetically between the three Xrd games, which already looked great from SIGN and did not need much changing though there are small details such as the fighters having blue sparks as a visual indicator that they have BURST available and a few new songs added onto an established strong soundtrack. REV2 still plays great and continues that aggressive, fast-paced, in-your-face, climatic style the franchise has been known for that all of its battles look like a kung-fu movie laced with tons of caffeine. It’s fun to watch as a spectator and feels like a roller coaster trying to keep up while playing. Combined with a robust online with open public lobbies to find strangers to spar one-on-one or collaborate with friends in a private room that keeps Xrd as the gold standard on how a fighting game release should be.

    I’ll openly admit there was some weight that helped REV2 get its spot on my GOTY list. Though I have been absent from the group the past two months, my time sparring (and getting my ass whooped thoroughly) with the dedicated folks at the Giant Bomb FGC Discord group did have influence of REV2 making it on this year’s list. I still had to make my way out to them to participate, but in fighting with those duders in REV2 showed me a lot of the game that I probably would not seen had I not been proactive in the group. Without them, I would not have played as much of REV2 as I did with the GB FGC and would have passed it off as a mundane update that should not warrant any merit.

  • [#05]

    When Pyre presented the notion of the cycle period, whereas only one member can be liberated per rite, I was afraid on how exhaustive and stale the game would get. What kept me at Pyre was its strong story around the Nightwings and their plan to liberate the commonwealth, the beautiful art found all over Pyre’s environment, excellent soundtrack, unique sports gameplay that I grew to understand and enjoy as I progressed, and other small neat touches found here and there. Pyre’s persistence to keep at it and to go forth to see out the fates of the Nightwings overcame my worrying state on how the game will pace and wrap itself up. Despite a few nitpicky items I have with Pyre, Supergiant ultimately won me over by showcasing its ingenuity and strengths of what they can do with a game.

    My biggest nitpick with Pyre is the action of going through the rites over and over. Though they did well to mitigate the cycle as the story came to a close and included smart additions to replenish the successful outgoing players and continuing the strong storytelling, the game moved at a sluggish pace to get the player to cycle through the rites again. Pyre isn’t a long game, but I’ll admit that I had the case of “are we there yet” even if there was compelling storytelling and narration told in the meantime. Luckily the developers were kind enough to shorten the rites toward the tail end of the game which picked up the pace to get it to its compelling conclusion. I was also slightly disappointed that we do not get to interaction and explore more of the worlds revisited during the cycle, though that probably would have prolonged the gametime longer than necessary.

    Pyre nails everything else that it sets out to deliver. It’s art was an immediate attention getter from the start and it’s downright beautiful to see at every turn. I love that they gave music themes to all the competing factions and the singing portions from the Lone Minstrel was a personal wow moment for me. All the animations with the Nightwing’s carriage is impressive on how it moves within each environment. It took me awhile to get accustomed and enjoy Pyre’s basketball-esque gameplay, but I eventually warmed up and enjoyed choosing my team and competing against the opponent’s team and see what I can both on the offensive and defensive fronts. I think I would enjoy Pyre’s gameplay more against a human and the different strategies and metas that would arise that the game’s controller AI may not think of. The little things such as using the cursor and highlight to add additional detail regarding an item, character, etc.is another nice, small detail that I wish many other game should cop for fill in the blank information.

    I admire Supergiant for not resting on their laurels and push themselves to take some chances with Pyre with their intriguing tale of a ragtag group hoping to make a significant change in the world that they were exiled from and to do tell it around a ritual of a team sports gameplay. Pyre is also an achievement in art, style, story, and characters you feel for in their efforts to push their plan forward to fruition. To think this is coming from the likes of Supergiant and not from a bigger and established developer all makes Pyre’s excellence more to celebrate for.

  • [#04]

    There are games that you admire their brevity and sharpness to them. SteamWorld Dig 2 is not only an excellent game that you want out of a sequel, but does them so well that it excels in the genre where there are already a lot of excellent games crafted for. What stands SteamWorld Dig 2 out of the rest for me is it’s excellent cycle of collecting as many sellable materials within the allowable storage capacity and selling them to upgrade and to unknown and risks to further explore the depths of the mine and finding a bath to get to the next story checkpoint, or at least the next travel tube to quickly return back to. The game is not incredible deep in terms of gameplay complexity or overall game content, but the game is sharp to a tee on its fundamentals that left me impressed on how comfortable and sharp playing the game is to play.

    All platformers need the characters and the controls to be sharp and in sync for it to play well, and SteamWorld Dig 2 has the best in-control feel of your character that I had for the year. I never felt frustrated over a missed up, a missed or accidental input of the character’s tools, or having to adjust other nuances in play. Even when I had difficulty with the final boss, I rarely blamed on lack of control responsiveness and more on me learning the boss's patterns and dealing with the map intangibles. The game’s mine and cave puzzles are well designed that the easy puzzles are easily discernible while the harder puzzles just take some thoughtful efforts to solve. I also love that they kept the mines relatively sane in terms of area depth by keeping each area mostly self-contained with opportunities to break open to explore.

    SteamWorld Dig 2 makes a better case for player to continue playing after all the story missions are over as the more frequent transport pods and better suited equipment are far better suited to explore the unventured parts of the mines than Dig 1 left you with. The additions of the grappling hook and the hover ability are welcome and necessary tools that helps to get into the unexplored areas in between the transport pods more tenable, which was hard to do with Dig 1’s more sparse transport pods and limited tool and skill sets. The little UI additions of flashing when there’s a new transport pod, cave, or area of interest highlighted is another welcome tough that further encourages the want to explore the mines further.

    Though SteamWorld Dig 2 lacks the ambitious, risk-taking creative avenues that other games took on this year, there’s nothing wrong in shoring up and making small but meaningful adjustments to make the sequel a stronger statement. It also helps that it is the best in-control feeling game I ever had for the year, and I played this gem on the Vita.

  • [#03]

    In a weird way, Splatoon 2 impressed me more so with the less amount of time I played with it against all hours I played with the first game. All of the changes, mostly small and not easily apparent, really makes Splatoon 2’s case of existence and one of few active and engaging online options on the Nintendo Switch. Along with frequent updates that almost always include new content on top of balance changes and game functions that keeps the game fun at all levels. Out of the Switch games I played in this crazy, jammed packed year of excellent games for this new platform, Splatoon 2 was both my go-to Switch and online multiplayer game of the year.

    As a veteran of Splatoon 1, I was surprised to see the changes made to 1’s maps that made it over to 2, along with a complete change to the ranking system that is more tolerable compared to the grind that 1’s ranked mode consisted of and slight changes to the competitive ranked modes themselves. All of the maps, the new ones introduced in 2 and the ones plucked from 1, looks to have more ways out to navigate around the map. Splitting out each competitive ranked mode as its own rank is great and the reaching a threshold to maintain rank is another neat rank mode change that alleviates the first game’s frustrating grind of the rank down/rank up methodology. If competitive multiplayer isn’t your thing, the casual online turf war is still great with the objective of inking as much of the map within the time limit.

    Splatoon 2 isn’t solely online competitive, the new Salmon Run mode is an excellent as its own horde mode where you and three other inklings team up to collect as many eggs against waves of enemies if co-op is more of your multiplayer comfort zone. Those new to Splatoon but need some sort of hand-holding trial to feel comfortable, the game’s single player is designed perfectly to get new players comfortable before hitting the online ropes. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s the Splatfests that are held from time to time where all players pick a side and battle it out over a day. And if that wasn’t enough, Nintendo has been active in providing frequent updates that add in new maps, new weapons, new music, and recently released a brand new ranked mode that I have quickly warmed up to in Clam Blitz.

    All of the wonderful content that Splatoon 2 has would not be worth playing if its main gameplay were not fun to play. Being used to playing the first game with the Wii U gamepad, I had little issues quickly adapting to this game’s controls through the Switch’s handheld method. Everything from swimming in your own ink to swim and reload, to popping out and throwing your offensive capabilities always great. Adding to the basic character controls is finding the right combination of weapon with clothing abilities to maximize your style of play.

    The main knock against that I hear about Splatoon 2 is just that it’s basically more Splatoon. Early on, I would completely agree with that sentiment. Once I pressed on and continued playing, that knock does not hold much water to me. Aside from the new Salmon Run, new maps and weapons, and some functional improvements, all of the content seems like a complete rehash from the first. Like my reaction with the first game, there’s surprising depth to the game around each mode, how you play, what weapon and abilities to run with, and to adjust on the fly in battle. I’ll admit the controls can be a hassle to some, being an online multiplayer centric game, lack of offline multiplayer options, matchmaking, unable to leave locked in searching for players lobbies are flaws that are disappointing that Nintendo did not address from the first game. Ultimately, Splatoon 2 wowed me by being a tighter and beefier Splatoon game that I still had plenty of sea legs for.

  • [#02]

    It’s one thing to nail a particular look, it’s another thing to nail everything else to become the essential playbook to make a game simply more than saying it’s awesome. Video games already have a rich history of artful, stylish games under its belt, but to take a historical art style and sound design and develop a tough-as-balls 2D side scrolling shooter game around it and succeed on both fronts is just the surface of how Cuphead is more than an excellent, impressive game. You can show this game to a group of non-gamers and see them impressed on not only someone taking inspiration from the old-school cartoons, but to implement and produce that style entirely as a video game.

    Cuphead’s artistic achievements are already well-documented, but I’ll do my best to explain how much it impacted and impressed me. The macro look of the game is already a marvel to look at, matching the old 1930’s cartoon look to a tee. Playing through the game reveals that the art is more than just an artistic marvel, but also has a lot of technical merit as well. How else would all of the wonder old-school cartoon look with its particular animations and color palettes not conflict at all around its frantic side-scrolling action? Other small wrinkles include the hazy footage on the game’s introductory movie, main menu, and on the one-eyed, angry-looking, shopkeeper Porkrind.

    The developers could have stopped there, but they were so dedicated with the scope of the time period theme and went ahead and did it on the sound design end, which I find more impressive. Referring back to the introductory movie, the constant crackle and the tone of which the barbershop-esque singers come out is something you would expect that sound to sound like back in that time period. The game’s soundtrack is amazing with an inspiring mix of songs that match the theme, which includes the show-stopping Mr. King Dice theme. Attention to detail also gets into the sound design, from the boxer announcer, Porkrind’s distorted voice, and all of the old-school cartoon sound effects are intelligently implemented and executed.

    Cuphead being a game however, needed to also deliver a compelling a game to play on top of its wonderful presentation, and largely succeeds there too. Not only the game’s presentation is an homage to the past, but the foundation of the gameplay is another area where it is heavily influenced with the old-school 2D side-scroller action games that were prevalent during the late 80s to 90s arcades and on the 8-bit and 16-bit console eras. The run and gun platforming stages strongly evoke the likes of Contra and the aerial airplane boss battles feel reminiscent of the classic shoot-em-ups like Gradius and R-Type. But there’s more to Cuphead’s gameplay than simply shooting down everything on screen.

    On Cuphead’s ground-based bosses and run-and-gun stages, the game allows you to choose two shooter weapon styles, a perk, and a super skill. Part of what makes Cuphead great is what loadout you think works best against the a specific boss and the subsequent attempts and adjustments made thereafter to win the boss. The boss progress page upon defeat is an important and neat tool to show players how far they made against the boss that oddly acts as encouragement of the game telling you on how far you gone and you only got this much left to go. Another aspect on what makes Cuphead more than just the good old shooter is its meter mechanic where filling up one bar gains access to an EX attack, a stronger version of the weapon’s normal shop, and access to a Critical Art if the player manages to fill up all five power meters. The decision to use EX-es or to save up to use a super is another strategy layer for the player to decide when to use of each. The final essential Cuphead mechanic, the parry, quickly becomes important not because parrying an enemy’s parriable attack gains a significant amount of meter, but is also used for navigation on the run-and-gun and in certain boss battles.

    The aerial battles still retain the franticness of its ground-based stages but has a different feel to them. The parry, meter, and EX mechanics all apply the same here, the difference in aerial battles is the player is locked into two weapon types, one that shoots horizontal and another that arcs below and there is only one Critical Art available. The one mechanic that is only tied in with aerial battles, the ability to shrink, is an important ability that no doubt is frequently used to navigate through the hordes of enemies and bullets and also boosting speed and maneuverability. No matter on the ground or through the air, Cuphead still manages to bring out the same psychology of frustration and engagement to take another stab as you make progress.

    Cuphead does have its flaws amongst all of the excellence I have written about it thus far. My only gripe gameplay wise is a lack of indication on how close the boss is close to either a phase change or my gripe, when it’s close to death. There are times where if there was some visual cue that I would have used whatever meter I had to close out the deal instead of wondering if I was ever close or not. The run-and-gun stages, while still enjoyable, don’t resonate with me compared to the endless spectacle found in every boss fight and are only used to collect coins to buy additional shooters and power-ups. The game’s overworlds are pretty barren with its only functions is to find a few hidden secrets/hidden coins, access the shop, and unlocking portions of the world. In a funny way, I wish Cuphead retained the original intent of just being a long-line of boss fights instead of having these other things tacked on, though at the time we did not know much about the game at the time.

    My other strike against Cuphead is that it largely locks itself in scope by producing a game around an established style and gameplay foundation. Don’t get me wrong, I am more than smitten with Cuphead’s presentation, blown away by its gameplay, and more impressed on how the final product turned out; they just limited themselves to really nail the style they were working with. I am glad they went above and beyond of what the first trailer promised on what seemed to be just a game with a cool look. Not to mention on the gameplay side of things, the terms of parry, EX, and Critical Art shows their love of Street Fighter III and the casino boss-rush is a nice homage and page taken from the board game section of Gunstar Heroes.

    I already wrote too much about Cuphead, it’s hands-down awesome. Don’t mind much about its difficulty. Cuphead being difficult works in its favor, you just have to give it time to let all of the gameplay mechanics and boss patterns down to feel the adrenaline rush and the want to give it one more go.

  • [#01]

    It took me awhile to really grab hold and enjoy what NieR:Automata was doing in many facets, but once it did, I was left speechless with the overwhelming amount of instances where I thought the game did something well, interesting, ambitious, etcetera, upon finishing. Those moments were not just relegated to a few select areas that I can pinpoint and detail thoroughly, but in many areas around the technical and creative aspects of the game. I do share the sentiments with some of the criticisms levied against the game and took them into serious consideration, I did not think the game’s flaws were serious enough cumulatively to derail the powerful culmination of positives I took from the game. NieR:Automata falls into a special group of something you enjoy so much that you easily acknowledge its weaknesses and still be blown away.

    The start of route B was the key moment that made me stop for a bit of what Automata was doing. I was heading in expecting to start from route A upon continuing my journey, instead I am controlling one of the enemy robots that I have been destroying in numbers, slowly walking back to fetch oil in hopes to revive his brother. When I tripped and spilled the oil for the first time was another small moment that I thought was cruel but neat. Once I took control of 9S, I went in the “wrong” direction and fell into one of the few bad/joke endings, another small moment that got my attention. I was then amazed upon playing route B’s introductory sequence to hear the same exact dialogue from route A’s intro, but you’re playing the same sequence from 9S’s perspective to see his view of the events unfold. That was only the beginning of unraveling the layers Automata had in store for me.

    I won’t go into heavy detail on any specific moment that gave me pause, but I will say that those moments, no matter what themes and possible emotions those particular moments employ, always felt natural. What started as a simple mission of Yorha, a spealicized trained group completely run by androids, whose sole purpose is to take back the Earth on behalf on humankind against the aliens who invaded and took over the planet, turns into something more internal over the constant questions of life and its meaning to non-human beings. The plot is nonsensical on a macro scale, but the cumulation of how the events unfold little by little made slowly won me over on where Taro’s writing would take me next.

    Equally mesmerizing are how strong many side quests and side stories squeezed in between the main stories. None of them provide any additional information that typical side quests ensue, instead the side quests are mini-stories being told in Automata’s universe. The quality of the side quests vary, but the ones that hit really hit. The end results of the side quests range from surprisingly quaint to outrageous outcomes, which in Automata’s environment is par for the course. But giving the side quests their own little stories show how far Taro and company are willing to give something minor as side quests the amount of attention it got. Hell, they even went as far as writing mini-stories for all weapons that unveil more as you upgraded them.

    From what I’ve been picking up, folks that love Automata typically love it for a combination of story, characters, and themes it carries itself out in strong fashion throughout. For me, it was Automata’s unconventional takes on the video game aspects of what a video game should do. At the beginning, the game makes it clear with messages that there will be no save points available during the first hour of the game, and no auto-save available. The Taro-esque character warns on how the map will not be reliable because that’s what you have to play and deal with in this game. Upon finishing route A, there was a message written by Square Enix PR congratulating you on finishing route A and also imploring you to continue playing to get “the full experience.”

    I want to highlight some of my favorite unconventional Automata gaming moments to on my to further elaborate my point. The chip program is the area where you get to choose with skills to add within the allotted space, and within that space is the ability to remove UI if you rather have that space allocated to another skill. The suddenness of walking out of the directed path in particular story points that led you to a bad ending is a neat feature. Not limiting itself to just a character action game, but also making a hacking mini-game an important part of combat and sprinkling in doses of old-school shoot ‘em ups (Radiant Silvergun like with the shooting and melee attacks) is also a nice touch. The final boss sequence where you bounce back and forth between A2 and 9S battling the same boss is another unconventional is another great instance. Lastly, everything that ending E involved from not only in accepting help, but also willing to give up your save to help another “who you even hate” to get through the same ending is just magical, in a sense that it not only affects your game of Automata of giving up your save, but to another who may get your save to finish ending E and have them go through the same dilemma as you did.

    I did not want my Automata write-up to be all rainbows, and there are varying degrees of flaws that I found with the game that did not fully impact my final assessment of the game, but could be significant to others that view it otherwise. I understand that the story, characters, and themes told may not resonate due to a variety of factors. I’ll agree that Route B could have been skimmed down to not feel like a complete retread of route A, though I’ll argue that B’s length is justified for recontextualizing the same events. I’ll also agree that Automata my not have great art or is impressive graphically on a technical scale, but I’ll digress they’re outright bad just because the world is sparse and doesn’t have muscle behind its look. Lastly, I can see where the argument of the soundtrack used in a way to evoke emotion where it did not warrant one.

    Automata’s major criticism have been directed to its gameplay, which I’ll give some and take some. It is interesting to hear this aspect of the game weak considering PlatinumGames was brought in to ensure this was not going to be the problem that NieR was fairly knocked for. I don’t think the game play is terrible to the point where it’s downright unplayable, but those who are looking for a more intense, intricate combat gameplay liken to Bayonetta (ground combat)/Radiant Silvergun (shoot ‘em up) will probably find the combat boring and not challenging. I liken the ground combat to a beat ‘em up, there’s not much depth but it still looks great and the controls feel pretty sharp and responsive enough to keep up with the action. It may be disappointing to those who heard about PlatinumGame’s action excellence were hoping Automata’s combat be in the same vein as Bayonetta or Revengence, but the gameplay does the job in not being a broken mess to play and is not the Automata’s focal area of importance.

    The lasting impression I got out of Automata was that there are cracks on what a video game should entail and games should take more chances on going off the cusp if it’s handled by the right hands. Though I enjoyed the rollercoaster ride of 2B, 9S, A2’s endeavors of their situations, endearing NPCs (Pascal being one of the strongest NPC/supporting characters ever written), memorable side quest stories, and the themes that feel close to anyone who has ever dealt with those themes heavily in its story; it’s more of what Automata does in doing something off the beaten path on some familiar video game conventions that not only made the game more engrossing. Automata has shown me that there are a ton more things that can be done with the video game format, and gives me hope for future games that can find the cracks and deliver more strong, unconventional gaming experiences.

    Cheers, to video games.