Top 10 Video Games of 2017 (Game of the Year)

Here we are. The big one. Game of the Year.

Naming the best video game to be released in almost any given year is a pretty challenging endeavor – I say ‘almost’ because some years, like 2012, kinda suck in the video game department (I’m sorry, how else can you explain Journey winning so many GotY awards for 2012?). This difficulty is doubled, maybe tripled for a year like 2017. Despite some questionable directions the video game industry went into during the year (I’m looking your way, Battlefront II), when was the last time a year had so many stellar releases beginning right out the gate all the way to the tail end of the year?

Seriously, 2017 was a hell of a year for video games! It was like BOOM! Awesome game! BOOM! Awesome game! BOOM! Awesome game! It was murder on the wallet, but worth every penny.

With such a high watermark of a year now in the history books, the year’s best game must be named. Traditionally, I have acknowledged my top 5 games of the year. But for a year as exceptional to the medium as 2017, I had to up the ante to a full-blown top 10!

The following are the ten games that I feel stood out the most among the many greats of 2017. A number of notable titles barely missed making it on here (PlayerUnknown’s Battleground, for example, snagged my “Best Online Multiplayer” award for its intensity, but it lacks the polish of the ten games I’m listing here). I haven’t reviewed all of the games I’m about to list just yet, but I hope to get around to it. Also, as I always state when making such a list, these are my feelings for the moment, so if I later appear to change preferences to what I list here, that’s not necessarily a contradiction. Opinions change. The only things set in stone here are the top two.

Also of note is that, despite being one of the best games of this (or any other) year, I have exempted Mario Kart 8 Deluxe from this top 10 for the obvious reason that it’s a re-release. Same goes for Crash Bandicoot.

Now with that out of the way, my top 10 favorite video games of 2017!

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Video Game Awards 2018: Best Gameplay

Gameplay is the glue that holds a game together. No matter how good a game’s story might be, no matter how much content a game tries to cram in, if the gameplay isn’t engaging, it’s all for naught. As such, naming the best gameplay of any given year is kind of a big deal.

There were certainly no shortage of fantastic games in 2017, but in the end, one had to be more fun to play than the rest.

 

Winner: Super Mario Odyssey

Come on! How could it not be Mario? Sure, there have been other series that have matched Mario’s playability on occasion (some more frequently than others), but there’s not been another series that has so consistently mastered the fine art of gameplay quite like Super Mario, and Odyssey is arguably the most fun entry in the series.

You can possess a T-rex for crying out loud! A freaking T-rex!

It’s not just that, though. Super Mario Odyssey reaches the heights it does because it has so many ideas constantly at play, end executes them so excellently. The aforementioned T-rex is just one of many creatures and objects Mario can “capture,” each one bringing with them their own gameplay. Then we have Mario himself, whose moves have never been so versatile, and possibly never so fluid to perform.

Super Mario Odyssey was largely touted as the spiritual successor to Super Mario 64 and Sunshine as a new “sandbox” entry in the series, and while that’s true to an extent, its design and gameplay feel just as influenced by Super Mario World and the Galaxy titles which – with all due respect to 64 and Sunshine – were on another level gameplay-wise.

Every kingdom of Odyssey is filled with countless things to do, and every last one of them are fun. Sandbox? No no no, Super Mario Odyssey is a toybox; giving you all the tools you need for the ultimate playtime.

Runner-up: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Runner-up: Persona 5

Video Game Awards 2018: Best Content

These days, video games are packed with content. Whether it’s alternate modes, post-game content, or various side objectives, games due their damnedest to make sure there’s always something to do. 2017 was no exception to this, with game after game cramming in whatever they could to make sure gamers were never bored. Of course, there can only be one winner.

 

Winner: Super Mario Odyssey

With all due respect to the vastness of Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule, and the seemingly never-ending length of Persona 5, it was Super Mario Odyssey that had something fun to do around every nook and cranny. Odyssey is one maybe a handful of games where there’s simply never a dull second. Like the best Mario games (specifically, World and Galaxy 2), Odyssey liberally sprinkles in creative idea after creative idea, with none of them overstaying their welcome. And by combining that inventive mentality with the more “sandbox” style of 64 and Sunshine, it turns every Kingdom into a virtual playground.

Hundreds and hundreds of Power Moons are hidden away for Mario to find. And the reward for collecting them? More Super Mario Odyssey! It seems like no matter how much you accomplish in Odyssey, you’re always uncovering more to do.

Better still is that Nintendo seemed to have designed Odyssey with every audience in mind, intentionally implementing moves that allow speedrunners to “break” the game if they’re crafty enough, while other players have plenty of options to take their time. Then take into account all the different capture abilities and gameplay styles, and Super Mario Odyssey is like an endless well of fun. I mean, you can ride around the city in a motor scooter! You don’t have to, but it’s there, and you can!

To top it all off, Super Mario Odyssey has perhaps the best post-game content out there, expanding the adventure by quite a large margin, while also introducing all the more variations of gameplay. And now with updates making their way into the game, Super Mario Odyssey is simply a title that never lets up.

 

Runner-up: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Runner-up: Persona 5

Video Game Awards 2018: Best Music

If you ask me, music is one of the most important aspects of a video game (or most any form of media, really). Whether it’s the catchiest tunes that etch their way into your memory until you regularly hum them during your daily activities, a sweeping score that gives a game a grand sense of scale, or minimalistic melodies to help build the atmosphere of a game’s world, music is of the utmost importance in helping make a game become something you’ll truly remember.

As far as 2017 was concerned, there were certainly no shortages of quality video game soundtracks to go along with all the quality games. But something had to win.

 

Winner: Super Mario Odyssey

C’mon! Mario games and terrific music go together like peanut butter and jelly! Is this really a surprise?

Still though, even with the Mario series’ consistently catchy music, Odyssey is something special. This is, after all, the first-ever Mario game to feature songs with lyrics, and damn catchy ones, too!

Odyssey takes the orchestrated scores first introduced in the Mario Galaxy titles, and turns it all into something even more whimsical and full of personality. Odyssey introduces an even wider range of styles and moods than any Mario score has seen in the past – from the adventurous Cascade Kingdom Theme, the gentle melody of the Lake Kingdom, the hustle and bustle of New Donk City, and the atmospheric gloom of the Ruined Kingdom – this is a Mario adventure whose musical score is as creative and varied as its wild locations and art directions. Every world even gets it’s own 8-bit remix to bring a bit of retro charm to the proceedings.

For Odyssey, Mario needed a musical score that could justify an adventure this special. And boy, did it ever deliver. Jump up, superstar!

 

Runner-up: Sonic Mania

Runner-up: Persona 5

Super Mario Odyssey Review

Reach for the moon…

The Super Mario series requires no introduction; to say that it is synonymous with the video game medium would be an immense understatement. Its cadence to this unanimous praise is heavily warranted as the Super Mario series is game development at its finest. One staple and undisputed fact that has remained a constant of sorts for the legendary series is its profound sense of unadulterated fun; no other series is able to emit an equivalent sense of elation or wonder. However, Mario’s strongest backbone and alluring element is its ability to adapt and evolve.  The core ingenious structure has remained intact for over three decades, with innovative ideas and constructs implemented into each new iteration of Mario. It’s a successful formula that rightfully acknowledges and respects the past, but also leaves way for innovation and improvement, encompassing a disposition for unpredictability and audacity. Super Mario Odyssey is a prime example of Nintendo’s pristine ability to take the familiar and beautifully mold it into something brilliantly exotic. In a lot of ways, Super Mario Odyssey is a renascence of the 3D sandbox platformer, however this magical adventure is far more than the sum of its parts. It redefines the structure of the series in terms of its gameplay variance, level design, and progression structure, while paying homage to its roots and acting as a celebration of sorts for the beloved franchise. It’s a delicious adventure that is equally parts exploration and platforming, and is chockful of enticing secrets and goodies to discover. Super Mario Odyssey is an amalgamation of each minute element that validates the series’ perfect standing; this foundation is enhanced considerably through Nintendo’s ingenious use of inventive concepts and implementations, crafting an experience that is constantly evolving in surprisingly brilliant ways. It’s an unabashed masterpiece that surpasses the insurmountable standards set by the Mario franchise. Super Mario Odyssey is the definition of perfection and is a glorified testament to Nintendo’s unparalleled sense of creativity and innovation.

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The Difficulty Dilemma

Not every game needs to be difficult. I say this because it seems there’s an ever-increasing trend among the video game community that states a game isn’t good unless it kicks the player’s ass, and that any game that doesn’t prove to be crushingly difficult is automatically bad. But frankly, that mentality seems like little more than gamers (once again) putting on an air of pretentiousness based on their skill at a particular game.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good challenge. A high difficulty curve means that there’s a rewarding sense of accomplishment for overcoming it. I’m an immense fan of the Dark Souls/Bloodborne series, largely because of the huge sense of satisfaction you get when you finally manage to find success after various, crushing defeats. But not every game needs to be that challenging in order to be good.

“Kirby’s Epic Yarn is a game where you can’t even die. But it’s also an utter joy.”

To use perhaps the most prominent example of a game not needing to be difficult in order to be good, let’s take a look at Kirby. Kirby games are easy. It’s titular hero is gloriously overpowered – being able to steal a wide array of powers from enemies and being capable of flying over most pits – but Kirby is also a character who’s fun to control, the different abilities make for some varied gameplay, and there are fun little ideas scattered throughout Kirby’s adventures that keep things feeling fresh. I can breeze through most Kirby games, but I also don’t think I’ve ever played a bad one. Sure, not every Kirby game is great, but there’s not a Kirby game that exists that I would describe as a bad game.

The ideas that Kirby manages to pull off work so well because they’re well thought out and executed. Rarely are they ever trying to be difficult, but it doesn’t stop them from being fun or creative.

Now, to go to the other end of the spectrum, being difficult doesn’t always benefit a game. Battletoads on NES – while I ultimately think it’s a fun game – often pulls cheap stunts to make the game more difficult (both players can hurt each other), which only end up detracting from the experience. Simply put, if you have to resort to cheap tricks to make things challenging, well, you’re still resorting to cheap tricks.

“The bee boss in Cuphead has fist missiles that can track you even when they’re off-screen, which is more cumbersome than challenging with everything else going on on the screen.”

I know I’ll get some flak for this, but I think a more recent example of a game that would have benefited from toning down the difficulty just a little bit is Cuphead. Don’t get me wrong, overall I thought Cuphead was a great game (I scored it an 8.0 out of 10), but there were a handful of instances where it just felt like the screen was getting bombarded by distractions. This wasn’t much of a problem with the more “bullet hell” bosses, since your character is on a scrolling stage during those fights. With everything moving at a similar pace, it made the onslaught of on-screen objects less of a problem. But in Cuphead’s more traditional run-and-gun platforming bosses, you could often lose track of your character amidst all the hullaballoo. The boss characters on their own were challenging enough, did Cuphead really need to throw in a bunch of bells and whistles on top of them? It just feels like unnecessary padding.

Still though, it seems many people will still cry foul at a game unless it’s excruciatingly difficult. Some are even trying to write Super Mario Odyssey off as being “too easy” (I take it these people haven’t attempted the post-game content). Sure, Odyssey isn’t the most difficult game out there, but its consistently creative and surprising, and always rewarding the player’s curiosity in ways few games can match. No, Odyssey isn’t all that difficult until the post-game, but it’s brilliant in everything it does attempt.

Compare that to Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels (or the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2). It’s a decent game, but it’s arguably the only Mario platformer that doesn’t hold up very well, largely because much of its difficulty consists of challenges that are out of the player’s control. The poisonous mushroom, for example, looks strikingly similar to the super mushroom in the game’s original NES release, so anyone who played the original Super Mario Bros. would of course assume it’s a super mushroom. But nope. It kills you. And that’s just the first level! Later levels have gusts of winds taking Mario off-screen, so players have to focus on the momentum of said wind without seeing Mario on the screen in order to make long-distance jumps.

The Lost Levels isn’t a bad game, but there’s a reason Nintendo hasn’t attempted to replicate its difficulty since then. They learned from it, and realized which elements were difficult but fair, and which ones were just kind of BS.

“Ah, Dark Souls. Difficulty done right!”

Again, I’m not trying to knock difficult games. I adore Dark Souls and Mega Man, and plenty of other games that stomped all over me before I managed to make a dent in them. But I too often hear people complaining that a game isn’t any good because it didn’t throw them around like the Hulk did to Loki at the end of The Avengers. High difficulty doesn’t mean good, and easy doesn’t mean bad. It’s a lot more complicated than that. It’s the execution of a game’s ideas that count. A game could be difficult for all the wrong reasons, while another game could be easy for all the right ones.

Super Mario Odyssey Review

Much has been said of how Super Mario Odyssey is the return to the “sandbox style” of Mario game found in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. But the truth is it’s much more than that. This is the latest evolution in a series that is no stranger to evolving, as it feels like a  culmination of everything Mario has learned up to this point, all tied together with a bag of tricks that are entirely its own. World ensured Mario was an icon to endure past the 8-bit NES, 64 brought Mario into the third dimension and changed the way platformers are played, and Galaxy turned the very nature of the series on its head (often literally). Odyssey is the latest continuation of Mario’s progression, as it contorts and redefines the very foundations of gaming’s greatest icon.

From the get-go, it’s easy to tell that Odyssey is something special. Though the story is the tale as old as time – with the fiendish Bowser absconding with Princess Peach in an attempt to force her to be his bride – there are new twists here that make things feel fresh. The first, and most apparent, is the new cinematic quality given to the game’s events. The story this time around  begins with what would be the end of another Mario adventure, with the mustachioed hero coming face-to-face with the King Koopa to rescue Princess Peach.

Bowser, now decked out in a wedding tux, has hired a band of evil bunny wedding planners called the Broodals to aide him in his schemes, which all revolve around the forced nuptials. Bowser manages to get the upper hand in the scuffle, and soon Mario is sent plummeting from Bowser’s airship. Mario awakes not in the sunshine covered grassy hills that would signify the first level of virtually every previous Mario title, but in the Nightmare Before Christmas-esque world of the Cap Kingdom, which is inhabited by spectral hats.

Bowser is traveling the world, stealing different items from various kingdoms to ensure his ceremony is perfect: Flowers from the Wooded Kingdom, sparkling water from the Seaside Kingdom, and a mystic wedding ring from the Sand Kingdom, to name a few of the objects Bowser has apprehended. One of these items happens to be a sentient tiara from the Cap Kingdom (aptly named Tiara), whose brother Cappy is on a mission to rescue her. Mario and Cappy join forces, and soon the duo set off on a globetrotting adventure to save the day.

“Even more esoteric Mario characters, such as Pauline from the original Donkey Kong, show up during the adventure.”

Being a Mario title, of course the plot is simple stuff, but its cinematic presentation is a new high for the series, with many moments feeling like extravagant set pieces ripped out of Uncharted. And though it’s minimal, a travel brochure that serves as the player’s map contributes a bit of world building, with each kingdom getting some little details given to their environment, citizens, and local industries. Odyssey’s world may never pull at the heartstrings like Rosalina’s storybook, but Mario’s world has never felt more alive.

This is perhaps a bit ironic, because Mario’s world has also never been weirder. The realistically-proportioned humans of New Donk City (the Metro Kingdom) have already gained internet infamy for how they hilariously clash with Mario’s cartoonish self. But that’s far from the end of it, with Odyssey seemingly having a ball implementing whatever art directions and world themes tickle its fancy. The Sand Kingdom is home to sugar skull people inspired by Dia de los Muertos, while the Cascade Kingdom houses a T-rex that looks like it was ripped out of Jurassic Park. There are many other wonderful diversities in Odyssey’s visuals, including one boss who – along with its world – looks more like something from Dark Souls or Skyrim than Super Mario.

Of course, with Mario, it’s the gameplay that always comes first, and that’s as true here as ever. The best part is Odyssey’s distinct sense of weirdness is found even in its gameplay.

Describing the gameplay as weird certainly isn’t a knock on the game’s controls – Odyssey is as much a sequel to the Galaxy duo as it is to 64, as Mario himself retains all his classic acrobatics from those games, and controls just as fluidly as he did in his space ventures – but this weirdness is found in the form of Odyssey’s key new feature: the capture mechanic.

By throwing Cappy, Mario can effectively possess creatures and his classic enemies via his ghostly headwear (think of it like Oddjob from Goldfinger meets Bob from Twin Peaks), with each capture-able character bringing its own gameplay.

Some creatures provide small changes, such as the Cheap Cheap allowing for faster swimming without the need to take a break for air, while Goombas can stack on top of each other to reach higher places. Others are a bit more drastic, with the notorious Hammer Bros. having their own sense of movement, and can rapidly throw projectiles to fell enemies and break objects.

“Mario can even become a tank, turning things into all-out warfare.”

The capture ability isn’t limited to Mario’s classic rogues gallery, however, and the former plumber can possess new creatures like the Gushen, a squid-like figure entrapped in a bubble of water which pays homage to Sunshine’s F.L.U.D.D. by means of using the water as a jetpack. The Tropical Wiggler can stretch like an accordion for some unique navigation, while the aforementioned T-rex proves to be an unstoppable behemoth. Mario can even capture some inanimate objects, like the poles of New Donk City, which fling Mario to great heights.

Being able to capture such a wide array of creatures and objects means that the gameplay is constantly changing, and Odyssey wisely incorporates the mechanic into a seemingly endless variety of objects both big and small. Traditional power-ups are nowhere to be found, but the capture ability is so robust and used so creatively that it’s a more than worthy alternative.

It’s all for the sake of collecting Power Moons, the new equivalent to Stars and Shines of 3D Marios past. These Power Moons are the energy source that fuels Mario and Cappy’s ship, the Odyssey, with more moons required to visit each subsequent kingdom.

“Power Moons come in different colors depending on the kingdom.”

Here’s where Super Mario Odyssey lives up to its monicker of an open-world Mario title more than 64 and Sunshine ever did. There is no hub world in Odyssey, instead, each stage is its own wide open sandbox. Without a hub to return to after a Moon is collected, Mario pulls a page out of Banjo-Kazooie’s playbook, and is free to comb through a stage finding as many Power Moons as he possibly can at the player’s own leisure. There is a small caveat in that Odyssey is slightly more story-dictated than other Mario titles, and most of the stages are unlocked in a subsequent order (with only a few instances of multiple levels opening up at once). This is ultimately minor, however, as each stage has so much to do at any given time – with more activities being unlocked as you progress through the adventure – that the sheer abundance of player choice is perhaps equalled solely by Breath of the Wild.

Odyssey’s stages can get pretty massive, but they never feel overwhelming. Checkpoint flags can be fast-traveled to on the map screen, and the capture ability often leads to faster means of exploration. Plus, there’s so much to do in any given space of Odyssey’s levels that you’ll never feel like your travels are for naught.

The story will take about fifteen hours to complete, but rest assured the game is far from over at that point, as postgame content opens the adventure up all the more, leaving every sandbox of a stage completely open for the player to traverse them like never before. With hundreds of Moons to acquire, there’s rarely ever an end in sight, unless the player so desires to move on.

There are other means in which Odyssey gleefully leaves the player in charge, with a host of different control options available. Though the motion controls may take a few minutes to get used to, once you do, they play like a dream, and I found myself actively wanting to play with a joycon in each hand. You can always dock the joycons or use a pro controller if you wish, but Nintendo really went all out in ensuring every control option feels so responsive.

Perhaps Odyssey’s most charming little customizable option is the ability to change Mario’s costume and hat. Coins play a larger role than ever, as they can be traded to a chain of shops known as the Crazy Cap to gain new costumes. Similarly, purple currency is different to each kingdom, and are used to unlock costumes based on or inspired by that region (often with ties to Mario’s past, such as New Donk City’s construction worker uniform being identical to that which Mario wore on the box art to Super Mario Maker).

For the most part, the costumes and hats are purely cosmetic, though there are a few instances of a particular costume set being required to enter specific doors or to get the proper reaction from an NPC. Though this may be Odyssey’s lone lacking element, as Mario is usually just granted a Moon for entering said doors or talking to said NPCs. It’s a minor quibble, but it would have been a bit more interesting if the sections that required specific costumes had more to them.

If one has to search really hard to find anything else to raise an eyebrow about, it’s simply that the penalty for defeat is a measly ten coins. Gone are 1-ups and game overs in an admittedly modernized approach. But seeing as coins are all over the place, and more prevalent than ever before, defeat seems to have very little consequence.

Another noteworthy aspect of Odyssey is its bombardment of memorable boss fights. Although the boss battles tend to be on the easy side, they deliver on the fronts of creativity which, for my money, is the more important area. The boss battles are varied and plentiful, with many of the best ones also taking advantage of different capture abilities.

Visually speaking, Odyssey is the best looking game on the Switch. Along with the aforementioned abundance of art directions, the game as a whole is just a beauty to look at. Every texture, surface and liquid to be found in Mario’s world is given a new sheen, so even the most absurd of creatures and locations have a sense of realism. Better still are the tiny little details that are littered all over the place, like Mario getting covered in soot if he jumps over a chimney, or small animals scurrying in the distance. Although Mario’s world is more surreal than the land of Hyrule, Odyssey evokes the same sense of love for attention to detail as Breath of the Wild.

Of course, what would a Mario game be without a great soundtrack? This is another area in which Odyssey seemingly sets a new highpoint for the series, expanding on the orchestrated wonderment of Galaxy and making it into something even more grandiose, while still sounding distinctly Mario. Odyssey’s soundtrack is as fun and epic as any in Nintendo’s history, and is nothing short of a joy to listen to.

Super Mario Odyssey is a phenomenal game. It never stops piquing the player’s curiosity, and consistently rewarding it with one brilliant idea after another. There’s simply never a dull moment in Super Mario Odyssey, as it displays a constant stream of inventiveness that few games could match. Even a second player can join in on the action, and take control of Cappy while player one takes up Mario’s mantle.

Mario is one of gaming’s oldest icons, and yet he’s also proven to be the medium’s most consistent source of new ideas time and again. That concept has maybe never been more apparent than it is here in Odyssey, as it combines so many aspects of Mario’s greatest adventures while simultaneously rewriting them. It’s the next step in Mario’s evolution, while also being a loving homage to the series’ peerless history.

If I didn’t know any better, I might even say that Odyssey feels like a fitting conclusion to gaming’s most iconic franchise. It won’t be, of course, but Odyssey feels like the crescendo of all things Mario. There were more than a few instance in which Odyssey had me misty-eyed. Some instances were due to personal nostalgia, others were because of how beautifully Odyssey pays tribute to its entire lineage.

Fitting that Super Mario Odyssey should be released ten years after Galaxy. In 2007, Super Mario Galaxy seemed to encapsulate the Super Mario series, and brought it all to such newfound heights that many wondered where Mario could possibly go next. Now, Odyssey has pulled it off all over again. Its restless imagination, non-stop surprises, and pitch-perfect gameplay will leave anyone wondering what the future holds for Mario and company.

 

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