Top 10 Video Game Launch Titles

With my recent overhaul of Wizard Dojo (with a new overall look and new scoring system), I figured I’d ring in this new era of Wizard Dojo-ing with a revised version of the very first ‘top list’ I ever posted here at the Dojo; Top Video Game Launch Titles!

The first time around, I listed five games, plus some runners-up. This time around, I’m upping things to a top 10!

Video game consoles are defined by their best games. Sometimes, a console doesn’t have to wait very long to receive its first masterpiece, with a number of consoles getting one of their definitive games right out the gate. Although it used to be more commonplace for a console to receive a launch title that would go down as one of its best games, the idea of a killer launch title is becoming a rarer occurrence in gaming.

Still, launch games have more than left their mark on the industry. Here are, in my opinion, the 10 most significant video games to have launched their console.

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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!

Continue reading “Top 10 Video Games of 2017 (Game of the Year)”

Video Game Awards 2018: Best Sound

Well, another year has passed…already… and I’m going to go on record and just say it straight out: 2017 was probably the best year ever for video games. Okay, so 1995 and a couple of other years put up a strong argument, but 2017 just never let up. One great game after another seemed to be rushing out the gate for the entire calendar year. As such, this is quite the hefty year to decide on what games were the best at what. But opinionated crap like that is what I do! Who’s gonna stop me?

Let’s start my 2018 award season with the category of Best Sound, because sound effects are crucial to video games, but don’t always get the credit they deserve.

 

Winner: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

This is the first year since I’ve launched Wizard Dojo that a game by From Software hasn’t snagged my Best Sound award. Part of that is because From Software didn’t release anything this year, but that doesn’t take away from the other part of this equation: Breath of the Wild had some stellar sound design.

It perhaps shouldn’t be much of a surprise that, as far as sound is concerned, Breath of the Wild takes a familiar approach to From Software’s Souls series in that the sounds build the game’s atmosphere and world as much as anything. Every weapon Link finds, every piece of armor he wears, and every item he uses sounds unique to the ears. Link’s steps will echo differently depending on the terrain he’s walking across. The weight of every monster and beast can be heard as they move. The sound effects of Breath of the Wild all play a part in making this version of Hyrule feel more alive than it ever has before.

Sure, the art direction and environments help shape Hyrule, but it’s the sounds of every last locale that really bring it to life.

 

Runner-up: Super Mario Odyssey

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

*Review based on the Nintendo Switch version*

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a beautiful contradiction. It is at once the grandest adventure Nintendo has ever made, and their most minimalistic. It defies the established conventions of the Zelda series, while simultaneously celebrating the franchise’s legacy. It’s Nintendo’s first foray into the open-world genre, and yet it’s the best game said genre has ever produced. In short, Breath of the Wild is nothing short of a masterpiece, and the new standard for the Zelda franchise.

When Nintendo claimed they were making this newest Zelda title an open-world experience, it was all too easy to assume Nintendo had done something they rarely choose to do, and caved in and conformed with more contemporary gaming conventions. Nintendo is usually known for going by the beat of their own drum, but it seemed Nintendo had finally opted to do what everyone else was doing. Though titles such as Grand Theft Auto and Skyrim earned their place in gaming history, the open-world genre has been teetering on overexposure for years now. Did we really need Nintendo to throw their hat in this ring?

As it turns out, Nintendo was still doing their own thing in regards to Breath of the Wild, as it redefines the very definition of open-world gaming in a way that makes the genre truly live up to its name.

Breath of the Wild begins with Link, the series’ iconic protagonist, awaking from a hundred-year slumber. His memories of his past are wiped clean by this mysterious sleep, and he is only awakened by the distant sound of a woman’s voice.

Link follows the echoing voice, which leads him out of his rejuvenating chamber, and grants him the Sheikah Slate, a mysterious tablet that becomes an invaluable tool in the upcoming adventure.

Link soon learns that, during his slumber, the evil Ganon has been sealed away within Hyrule Castle by Princess Zelda, with the princess having trapped herself within the castle to hold Ganon at bay.

Ganon – now more of a physical, evil presence than a man or monster – will soon break free from his century-long prison to wreak havoc on the world. Should Ganon break free, it would spell certain doom for Zelda and all of Hyrule.

It’s a simple enough plot, but it plays to the game’s benefit because – as is the case with the gameplay itself – it employs both a grand scope and a sense of minimalism, with the details of the plot being unfolded piece by piece only if the player seeks them out. The story has a certain sense of mystery about it, and searching for the pieces of the story to rekindle Link’s memories gives it a sense of personal intrigue.

The truth is, you are able to go straight to battle Ganon as soon as Link awakes from his slumber if you choose, as ill-advised as that may be. The way the adventure unfolds is left entirely to the player, making Breath of the Wild the most open-world of open-world games.

The very foundations of the Zelda series have been rearranged. No longer does Link need to go from one dungeon to the next, grabbing specific items in each dungeon to solve its puzzles, and be rewarded with a Heart Container and a story item upon felling its boss. Those elements are still there – the dungeons, the items, the puzzles, the Heart Containers, and so forth – but Nintendo has completely overhauled how they all fit together.

Link now relies on the myriad of weapons he finds along his journey, or picks up from defeated foes, instead of simply finding a new toy in each subsequent dungeon. Even the iconic Master Sword is an optional component of Link’s arsenal. There are no mandatory weapons, only what you can find.

The weapons can break upon repeated usage, leaving the player to take to battle more strategically than ever before. But certain enemy types may favor particular weapons, and certain regions may be more keen on particular elemental items than others, leaving the player to learn the best places to acquire their favorite weapons.

Similarly, the more puzzle-oriented items in Link’s inventory have found a new life, as they are simply abilities provided by the Sheikah Slate, and are all acquired within the game’s introductory segment.

Bombs – which now come in round and cuboid shapes, leaving players to contemplate the physics involved with the item and environment – are now magically produced through the Sheikah Slate, so there’s no need to stock up on them or to be teased with the traditional bomb flowers early on. The Shiekah Slate can also produce icy platforms in bodies of water, manipulate metallic objects like a magnet, and temporarily freeze objects in time, allowing Link to strike with a bevy of hits. Later on, the Sheikah Slate even gets a camera function, allowing you to take photos of the people and creatures of Hyrule to fill up an encyclopedia.

A Link Between Worlds gave players the opportunity to buy any of Link’s items from the get-go, but Breath of the Wild takes that idea a step further by turning Link’s most unique items into different abilities provided by a single starting item. It streamlines the Zelda experience for the better, simply by condensing Link’s abilities, which are used in various ways, as opposed to many tools that have singular functions.

Link can no longer find hearts hidden in grass or clay pots for health. Instead, Breath of the Wild is given a survival element, as Link has to find and craft his own means of healing within the game’s world.

You can hunt animals for meat, find various plants around the world, and collect monster parts from fallen foes. Though eating some of these items as they are can restore a little health, cooking items together can create meals which can not only recover a large amount of health, but also provide temporary bonuses, such as extra hearts or stamina, stronger resistance to heat or the cold, or boosts in defense or attack, among others.

This gives the Zelda series a whole new layer of depth and challenge. Now players have to take notice of the environment and its elements (you don’t want to be wearing metal armor during a thunderstorm), and will have to make stronger preparations before heading into enemy territory.

When your journey first begins, Link may seem pitifully weak, with only three hearts, a small bit of stamina, and barely enough space to carry weapons and shields. This is where Breath of the Wild once again changes up the Zelda formula.

Though Heart Containers are still found by conquering the story-focused dungeons, Link no longer has to search for four Heart Pieces to increase his maximum health. Instead, players can travel Hyrule seeking out Shrines.

Shrines are either found lying around Hyrule, or materialize after finishing a sidequest or meeting a certain requirement. The shrines work like smaller dungeons, usually consisting of a handful of rooms, each containing their own puzzles and hidden treasures. The puzzles involved in the shrines are one of the game’s greatest highlights, as most can be tackled in different ways depending on the player’s thinking. The creativity and brevity of the shrine puzzles really bring to mind the various chambers of the Portal games, and I’d even say their consistent brilliance makes Breath of the Wild arguably the closest thing we have to Portal 3.

Once the shrines are completed, Link is awarded with a Spirit Orb. Every four Spirit Orbs Link obtains can be traded to goddess statues for greater maximum health or stamina, giving a whole new life to one of Zelda’s most recurring traditions. Stamina is used for running, climbing, swimming and gliding, thus making increasing your maximum stamina a worthwhile alternative to giving Link more health.

Similarly, there are Korok seeds that can be found by finding the many playful Koroks, who are hiding all over the place. Koroks may have you do something like lifting a rock at the top of a mountain or shooting flying targets from a certain standing point to make them appear. The Koroks will reward you with the seeds for finding them, and the seeds can be traded to a particularly large Korok for extra space in your inventory.

Finding things like a new shrine or a Korok hiding place (among other things) help fill Hyrule with things to do. This is a great thing, because the Hyrule of Breath of the Wild is absolutely massive, but that size wouldn’t mean anything if there were no substance to it. Thankfully, Nintendo really thought about how to keep things fun and exciting at every turn, so no matter what pace you choose to tackle the adventure, there’s always something to be accomplished, and a strong sense of discovery to be had.

Speaking of the size of the game’s world, it would have been easy for the simple act of traveling around it to become a chore in less capable hands. Thankfully, Breath of the Wild’s developers have streamlined the ways Link can get around Hyrule, meaning that traveling never becomes tedious.

Link can climb virtually any surface in Hyrule, and a paraglider gained early in the adventure means you can climb one mountain and glide to the next, if you so desire. The only surfaces Link can’t climb are found in the aforementioned shrines. Otherwise, player’s can find many clever ways for Link to get from one point to the next.

Additionally, Link can fast travel by teleporting to discovered shrines, as well as Towers (which unlock more pieces of the map when successfully ascended). So if you need to get to the other side of Hyrule in a hurry, you can simply bring up the map screen to teleport there, provided you’ve discovered a means to do so.

Unfortunately, this all brings me to one of Breath of the Wild’s few disappointing elements. Along Link’s adventures, Link can find wild horses, which can be tamed and registered to stables for later use. As you might expect, horses can move faster on foot than Link, but they might be stopped in their tracks by a large rock or tree, whereas Link can simply climb over it. It makes sense, certainly. But because Link is already a more versatile traveller, I rarely went through the trouble of taming horses, even if they are faster on foot. It’s ultimately a small quibble, but I do wish I had more incentive to claim a new steed.

Another highlight of the game are its more traditional story dungeons, which are only traditional in the sense that they are part of the main story, involve puzzles and enemies, and end with a boss. Otherwise, they greatly deviate from the series’ norm.

The dungeons are wonderfully creative, and come in the form of giant, animal-like constructs that would make the Power Rangers jealous. You usually have to go through a mini-adventure just getting to the dungeons through one of the lands of Hyrule’s different races (Gorons, Zoras, Rito and Gerudo), then you have a miniature showdown with the dungeon itself before making your way inside. Once inside, you’ll notice that the dungeons are as open-ended as anything else in the game, as they each contain five terminals which must be activated, but can be activated in whatever order the player chooses.

The best aspect of the dungeons is that, rather than a straightforward layout, the player can actually manipulate them from the inside. Rearranging the positioning of the dungeons and changing the perspective of their puzzles is a beautifully realized bit of creativity, and helps elevate the dungeon design as some of the finest in the series, despite their relative short length.

If there’s any complaint to be had with the dungeons (and I’m grasping at straws here), it’s that – despite the wonderfully varied locations they are found in and the creativity of their level design – the insides of the dungeons are all aesthetically identical, and their bosses also share similar appearances with each other.

Though that’s a non-issue in the long run, as the art direction and graphics, as a whole, are quite stunning. Aside from the Wii U re-releases of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, this is the first true Zelda game presented in HD, and it looks absolutely beautiful. The environments are relatively realistic in appearance, and the game is so detailed that you can even see the differences in weather between different lands in the distance. The characters are cel-shaded a la Wind Waker or Skyward Sword, which adds to the game’s visual charms, and serves as a unique contrast with the environments.

There even seems to be something of a Studio Ghibli inspiration emanating from the art direction. Ancient robots (called Guardians) are strangely reminiscent of those found in Castle in the Sky, while many of the environments might remind one of Princess Mononoke. Even the walking dungeons may bring Howl’s Moving Castle to mind. Breath of the Wild feels as much like a Studio Ghibli game as Ni no Kuni, and it only adds to the game’s appeal.

Breath of the Wild is equally pleasing to the ears, with a beautifully minimalistic soundtrack that also seems evocative of the soundtracks to Studio Ghibli films. I’ve seen a number of comments disregarding the soundtrack as not sounding “Zelda enough,” but I find it to be a perfect fit for the nature of the game, with its gentle piano melodies and ambient tunes bringing the game world to life.

Similarly, the game features some exquisite sound effects. The different armors and weapons, as well as Link’s interactions with different environments, all have their own sounds, which helps add to the atmosphere and life of the world in a way not dissimilar to Dark Souls.

Perhaps more notable is that Breath of the Wild is the first Zelda game to feature voice acting during its major cutscenes. Though Link is his usual, silent self and Ganon’s status as an evil substance means that two pieces of the franchise’s trifecta remain voiceless, Zelda, along with various other characters, have speaking roles. The voice acting may not go down as some of the best in gaming, but it’s solid and works when it needs to.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild fine tunes the gameplay and combat first introduced in Ocarina of Time, and similarly perfects the explorative elements of Wind Waker. In the process, it also throws in a little bit of Skyrim, Dark Souls, Portal, Uncharted, Shadow of the Colossus and Studio Ghibli. The end result creates an exhilarating and unforgettable adventure that allows players to tackle it however they choose (I put more than 30 hours into it before I attempted the first story dungeon). Its execution is so well done that Breath of the Wild should rank along the likes of Super Mario World, A Link to the Past and the Super Mario Galaxy titles as one of Nintendo’s finest achievements.

Despite all of its inspirations, Breath of the Wild is still very much the Zelda experience we all know and love. In fact, it may just be the best of the legendary lot.

 

10

The Nintendo Switch Hype is Real!

Before I get to my opinions of the Switch or its lineup of games, I just want to express how grateful I am that those horrible rumors of a Mario RPG/Rabbids crossover turned out to be false. The idea of Super Mario RPG FINALLY getting a sequel, only to have it defecated upon by the presence of the Rabbids (the most insufferable gaming mascots of all time) was just too much to bear. But it was all nothing but lies and deceit. This is cause for celebration.

 

Anyway, the Switch looks pretty incredible. I like the different play styles (console, handheld, and tabletop), and the controllers look quite nice. The “differing battery life” seemed like a vague answer to one of everyone’s biggest concerns, but I guess I can worry about that another time. The good definitely outweighed the bad with Nintendo’s presentation (though what, must I ask, was up with the translator? Can someone please buy that man a personality?).

But I’m here to focus on the games, and wow, Nintendo really delivered. It turns out that Splatoon isn’t a port, but a full-on sequel, Splatoon 2! We also saw another new Nintendo IP called ARMS, a 3D fighting game in which the characters all have extendable robot arms (oh, Nintendo).

Then we have Xenoblade 2, a new Shin Megami Tensei, and a new Square-Enix RPG with 16-bit sprite characters in 3D environments tentatively called “Project Octopath Traveller” (who comes up with these names for Square?). Also, Skyrim will finally be making its way to a Nintendo console. So the Switch is certainly showing some strong RPG support.

Project Octopath Traveler

We also got confirmation that Sonic Mania will be heading to the Switch, and Mario Kart 8 will be revamped as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and will feature a host of new characters, items and tracks. Most importantly, it will bring back a better more traditional Battle Mode. So it could end up being the perfect Mario Kart.

Of course, Nintendo made a big deal about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, while conveniently ignoring that it’s still going to be on Wii U as well (I’ll always love you, Wii U). The big news regarding Zelda, however, is that it will indeed hit the Switch at launch.

Surprisingly soon, the Nintendo Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will launch on March 3rd. And for a reasonable price at $300 (I don’t remember the price in other regions, and they don’t concern me. I’m a selfish bastard sometimes).

Aside from Zelda, the biggest game featured was Super Mario Odyssey. The brand new 3D Mario title will return to the free-roaming style of Super Mario 64 and Sunshine, and will see Mario traveling to different worlds via some kind of spaceship.

By different worlds, I don’t mean planetoids like in the Galaxy games, but it seems more like different dimensions. One of which is a realistic-looking city with unfortunately realistic-looking people called “New Donk City” (this is bound to be a meme) which features various Donkey Kong references. Another world is some kind of psychedelic food-themed world. Also, Mario’s hat has googly eyes, and he can throw it like Oddjob from Goldfinger and use it as a platform. Also Mario rides a Sphinx.

Super Mario Odyssey

Yeah, this could be the weirdest Mario game ever. And it looks amazing. Super Mario Odyssey is planned for a release in 2017’s holiday season.

Sheesh, if Nintendo can stick to these release dates, the Switch could be a contender for having the best first year in console history. And combined with all the great games coming to PS4, Xbox One and PC this year, 2017 could be the best year gaming has seen since the unprecedented streak that was 1995-1998.

I am very happy.

Top 5 Games of E3 2016

So another E3 has come and gone, and overall the show was…okay. There were some games that looked great, other games that everyone but me thought looked great (isn’t that right, Days Gone?), and the heart-crushing disappointment of Paper Mario: Color Splash being revealed to be everything we feared it would be.

Anyway, it was a so-so show, made a bit more lively by the few games that really stood out. As far as I’m concerned, the following are the five games I’m most looking forward to after this year’s event.

Oh, but I’m doing things just a little differently this year. Since my overall reaction to E3 this year was just lukewarm, I’m comprising my top 5 games from the event whether they were present at the show floor or not. Just what ever tickled my fancy this year, as long as it was featured or announced at the event.

I may do a few additional E3 awards later, but it all depends on how many Pixar-related posts I get around to (my “Pixar Month” has been surprisingly only slightly Pixar-y thus far).

So anyway, here are my top five most anticipated games coming out of E3 2016.

 

5: Crash Bandicoot Remastered

"If I saw that thing in my yard, I'd break out the compact bow..."
“If I saw that thing in my yard, I’d break out the compound bow…”

I was so excited when I heard the Crash Bandicoot theme on-stage during Sony’s conference. After years and years of rumors that Crash was coming back (some said under developer Naughty Dog), I thought all my wishes would come true.

And then they casually announced that they were simply remaking the first three Crash games on PS4 and that Crash Bandicoot is in the new Skylanders game, and I was a bit less excited.

After having some time to let it soak in though, I’m really excited for these Crash remakes. For one thing, the original Crash Bandicoot trilogy by Naughty Dog is still the series’ highpoint, and while the second and third entries have aged pretty darn well, these remakes have the chance to iron out the kinks they do have and bring them a more modern fluidity, while also having the chance to fix the largely outdated elements of the first Crash Bandicoot (seriously, fix the save feature!).

Not only that, but this might be the best way to reintroduce Crash to the world, after being passed around to developers like a game of hot potato, with none of the subsequent studios really getting the Naughty Dog’s formula right, and then having the IP go dark for eight years.

Who knows, maybe if the Crash remakes go well enough, it will sway Naughty Dog to get back into the platforming game.

 

4: Insomniac’s Spider-Man

"Hey everyone!"
“Hey everyone!”

Insomniac tends to make good games. Spider-Man is in serious need of a good game. Let’s hope Insomniac gets their peanut butter in Spider-Man’s chocolate…or something. It sounded better before I typed it. I don’t know why I’m not going back and changing my analogy.

Anyway, this new Spider-Man looks promising, and it could be the first great super hero game in years not to have the word “Arkham” in the title. Just please, somehow get J.K. Simmons to reprise his role of J. Jonah Jameson. Please! This goes for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well!

 

3: The Last Guardian

"A boy and his dog...thing..."
“A boy and his dog…thing…”

HOLY CRAP IT HAS A RELEASE DATE! And it’s only months away! Dreams do come true! We will get a new Crash Bandicoot from Naughty Dog! Paper Mario will go back to its RPG roots! Capcom will start making Mega Man games again!

Okay, I might be getting ahead of myself. For now, I’ll just be happy that the almost mythical The Last Guardian is actually happening. After years and years of delays, disappearances, and vague re-appearances, the follow-up to Shadow of the Colossus is finally happening. Here’s hoping it lives up to both its predecessor’s, and its own, reputation.

 

2: Yooka-Laylee

"Yooka and Laylee arrive in Arendelle."
“Yooka and Laylee arrive in Arendelle.”

Yooka-Laylee’s slight delay may be a little bit of a bummer, but my oh my, is this game shaping up to be something beautiful. It really does look like it’s going to be what Playtonic Games promised, and more.

From it’s likable cast of characters, colorful visuals and stunning locales, Yooka-Laylee is already looking like the true successor to Rare’s N64 heyday.

It’s been too long since collectathon platformers were a thing, but Yooka-Laylee looks to carry the torch so well that it’s like they never left. It’s shaping up to be the follow-up to Banjo-Tooie that we’ve waiting over sixteen years for (Gah! I’m old!), and a proper modernization and evolution of the genre. I simply can’t wait to see everything Yooka and Laylee’s world has in store (I’m guessing googly eyes are involved).

Hats off to Playtonic. Hats off.

 

1: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

"Goodbye, Pumbaa."
“Goodbye, Pumbaa.”

Sony may have had the best presence at E3, but Nintendo had the best game. After years and years of Zelda trying to tweak its established formula, we finally have a Zelda that seeks to reinvent it.

From what I’ve heard so far, Breath of the Wild looks to be one of the most open-ended games I’ve ever seen (you can fight the final boss right off the bat!), and Link’s abilities and items look unlike they have before. And finally, FINALLY, Link can jump. Yes, Link finally joins the likes of Mario as one of Nintendo’s jumpers.

I’ve seen many people already claim that Breath of the Wild is basically Nintendo’s equivalent to Skyrim (though I would argue that Breath of the Wild actually looks fun. Oooooh!), and that’s not too far off, as far as its open-endedness is concerned. But it also looks to draw inspiration from Zelda’s very first entry, Team Ico games, and even the films of Hayao Miyazaki (oh come on, the Guardians are totally inspired by Castle in the Sky’s robots).

Breath of the Wild really looks like its going all-out with its “breaking of series conventions,” and it only has me more and more interested to see what else Nintendo ends up doing with the game. Breath of the Wild is shaping up to be a beautiful swansong for the Wii U, and a fantastic introduction to the NX.

The only real question now is, what will Nintendo do with the next Mario?