Video Game Awards 2017: The ‘Secret of Mana’ Award

Okay, this is the award category where I have to give a little bit of backstory. Secret of Mana, originally released in 1993 on the SNES, is one of my favorite RPGs. But I didn’t actually play it until 2012, via the Wii’s Virtual Console service.

This particular award is named after Secret of Mana because it gives the spotlight to a game I didn’t play during its original release, but caught up on in the previous calendar year (in this case, 2016), as kind of a “better late than never” kind of thing.

So without further ado, here is 2016’s Secret of Mana Award recipient.

 

Winner: The Uncharted Series

Yeah, I didn’t fully play the Uncharted games until early last year, when I bought the Nathan Drake Collection on the PS4. Though the games are flawed (particularly the first and third entries), they really are something great, and I regret not playing them during their original releases. In fact, I like them so much, that I would retroactively hail Uncharted 2 as my favorite game of 2009. Their fast-paced action, and replication of Indiana

Originally, I was going to give this award to Undertale, which was released in September 2015, but I didn’t play until January of 2016. But I feel that was a close enough window that it was inconsequential. Meanwhile, the original Uncharted trilogy was released in 2007, 2009 and 2011. So catching up on three great games a good number of years after their original release was too much to pass up. Plus, I named Undertale as my overall Game of the Year for 2015, so it wasn’t exactly shorthanded.

Anyway, Uncharted is great. I understand its power now.

Video Game Awards 2017: Best Gameplay

Continuing with my 2017 video game awards (celebrating 2016 video games), here’s one of the biggest prizes, Best Gameplay. After all, without gameplay, a game isn’t worth very much. No matter how good a story may be, how developed a world is, or how pretty a game looks, none of it would amount to much if it’s not fun to play.

 

Winner: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

I’m going to be honest, this was a toss-up between Uncharted 4 and Dark Souls III. As much as I love the gameplay in Dark Souls, however, Dark Souls III carried on the polish that was introduced to the series with BloodBorne a year prior, while I feel Uncharted 4 marked a significant improvement to the (admittedly already solid) gameplay to the Uncharted series, which had been dormant for nearly five years when Uncharted 4 arrived.

With such extravagant action set pieces, Uncharted 4 brings a terrific level of variety to the the series, and fine-tunes the more unfortunate aspects of its predecessors (enemies no longer absorb bullets like sponges, and the gameplay itself feels more polished). Because of its perfecting of a tried-and-true formula, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End had to take the cake.

Runner-up: Dark Souls 3

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune Review

*Review based on the remastered PS4 version as part of Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection*

Uncharted

When it was released on the Playstation 3 back in 2007, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune brought a newfound success for Developer Naughty Dog, who became something of the Playstation brand’s premiere first-party from that point on. Though its sequels are more revered, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune remains a fun and exhilarating experience even nine years later.

Drake’s Fortune marked the debut of the Uncharted series and its now-iconic protagonist Nathan Drake. It tells the story of the treasure of El Dorado, and Drake’s quest to retrieve it, aided by his friend and partner Victor “Sully” Sullivan and journalist Elena Fisher. But they are pursued by rival treasure hunter Gabriel Roman, and his bands of pirates and mercenaries.

It’s a really simple plot, one that would feel right at home in an action-adventure film. It is also a very fitting plot, since Uncharted draws heavy inspiration from the likes of Indiana Jones, and even manages to replicate the kind of action scenarios found in Dr. Jones’ adventures for the video game medium.

The action is a combination of third-person shooters and platforming, with Nathan Drake able to carry two weapons at a time (a pistol and a larger gun) and use fisticuffs to take out enemies, as well as jumping, climbing and swinging across obstacles to make it through the environments. There are also puzzle elements thrown into the mix, which really add to the game’s Indiana Jones approach in crucial moments.

UnchartedNathan Drake mostly controls well, with the gameplay being pretty easy to learn. Some of the climbing can become a bit tedious, since the player has to keep jumping from various ledges and conveniently protruding rocks, which can feel a little awkward at times. And while the simplicity of the combat can be fun, many of the game’s later combat sections feel overly long and dragged out to the point of growing repetitious.

With that said, the core gameplay is really fun, and the aforementioned puzzles, as well as some exhilarating vehicle sections, help give the experience a good sense of variety. There are also some secret treasures that can be picked up, so completionists have a fun little detour to look forward to.

Uncharted also has a great presentation, with terrific visuals and an appropriately cinematic score that would feel right at home in a Summer blockbuster. Uncharted’s cinematic approach to presentation and narrative really make it feel like an Indiana Jones style adventure film found its way into a video game.

UnchartedIt also helps that the game’s three main characters are very likable. Nathan Drake may not have the mystique of Indiana Jones, but he has an everyman personality about him that makes him a refreshing character amid the countless waves of angry, vengeance-seeking anti-heroes in video games. Sully regularly steals the show with fun quips and a great sense of humor. And Elena feels like a more capable female sidekick than those that usually accompany action heroes (she still finds herself in need of saving from time to time, but she’s given some good moments to help out on the action, so she doesn’t come off as totally helpless).

All in all, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune remains an incredibly fun gaming experience. It has its flaws, and its sequels are obvious improvements, but the simple and fun characters, exciting gameplay, fantastic presentation and extravagant action set pieces made it a fitting start for one of Playstation’s most revered franchises.

Considering that there’s never been an Indiana Jones game that properly recreated the excitement of the movie series, one could say that Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was the Indiana Jones game we all dreamed of.

 

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