Continued from Part 1, where all of the negativity of 2017 lives.
Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+ is the iteration of The Binding of Isaac that launched on the Nintendo Switch quite soon after that console launched, and I played quite a lot of it. The player-character Isaac is a small child trying desperately to survive the labyrinthine basement under his home after his mother tries to kill him. It’s very easy to die in Binding of Isaac, but the more you play the more weapons and items you unlock and the farther down you can eventually reach until you’re able to fight one of several final bosses. You quickly find, upon starting up The Binding of Isaac, that many elements of the game are randomized.
The layouts of each stage for example, are randomized. The weapons, items, amount of money, and enemies you fight in each room are randomized as well. So it’s very possible to start a run of Isaac and quickly realize that you’re absolutely going to lose because the odds are utterly stacked against you. It’s also equally possible that the opposite will happen; that you’ll find yourself running through under-populated levels that rain the best weapons on you as well as extra health and the kind of buffs that render hazards completely irrelevant to you. The downtime between dying and getting back into the game is short, and there’s always something new to find or unlock, so I always felt an incentive to get back into the game and like I was always fairly well-equipped to meet the challenges that might face me.
It’s a simple, arcade-style game played in 2D with a top-down perspective. You avoid enemies and hazards, attacking them with your tears in a very twin-stick sort of style or by laying bombs. There are sometimes rooms hidden behind walls, and it’s possible to find resources by blowing up boulders; there are also shops to find and means of skipping levels if you can find them. The Binding of Isaac is a really simple game to explain and get into, and it has a great amount of depth to it. Even with all of its randomness it’s a fantastic game.
(It hurts...Oh so good)
Blaster Master Zero is simultaneously a top-down and side scrolling, exploration-based shooter. You play as Jason: a dork who travels through a wormhole in pursuit of your frog Fred. Instead of finding your frog though, you find a tank SOPHIA-III and eventually a girl, Eve. The new world you’re exploring on the other side of the wormhole is inhabited by all kinds of hostile mutants, but luckily you have the means to defend yourself inside of, and out of, your tank. Usually you’ll need to leave SOPHIA-III to go into a smaller space and either activate a switch, fight a boss, or take both of those actions, before you can proceed.
There are bosses to fight in the tank too, but it seemed like for the most part exploration happened in SOFIA-III and combat heavy areas took place on foot. It’s a very familiar type of gameplay style: explore, fight, find new weapons, boss, repeat. The presentation is basically the same as the original NES Blaster Master title, but it’s not as punishing as I would expect an NES game to be. I died plenty of times while playing Zero, but getting back into the game was always fairly quick and I never experienced major frustration with this game like I have with so many old NES games. This is one of the Switch launch titles I purchased and played on day one, and was a great introduction to the admittedly useless Switch feature HD-Rumble. As a game it was refreshing to put this one for a little while in between other, larger scale games. On its own though it was still a great experience, even for someone like me who hadn’t played the original Blaster Master.
(It came out of nowhere, and it was really good)
Cuphead is absolutely gorgeous to look at and wonderful to play, which is fantastic considering how often and how happily it kills you. What started as, and mostly is, a boss-focused shooting game, Cuphead also features a few platforming levels all presented in the style of 1920’s animation. You play as either Cuphead, Mugman, or the latecomer Ms. Chalice who are anthropomorphized liquid containers with massive eyes and an inability to ever stop moving. Cuphead and Mugman, being less than perfect, lost all of their money while playing games of chance with a Dice-Headed, double-dealer. Luckily the literal Devil is willing to take care of their debt if they go after some people who just so happen to be on Satan’s hit-list.
A vast majority of Cuphead is just a single fight against a single massive enemy. If you get hit more than twice, you’re dead, but the enemies you need to take out take a whole lot more than that to defeat. It’s possible to purchase new, stronger blasts, special moves and special moves which can help you defeat the bosses more efficiently. Even if you choose not to purchase upgrades it’s possible to make it through Cuphead, and even if you collect all of the coins from the platforming levels and get the best scores on Boss levels so that you can and do upgrade, Cuphead is a really challenging game.
There are attacks that can utterly fill up the screen with damage-zones, there are fast paced enemies, bosses go through multiple forms before dying, and every time I beat one of them it felt like a real accomplishment. Even in-game, dodging past projectiles and perrying others feels really good to pull off. Performing well in Cuphead is its own reward, and it’s absolutely difficult, but it was difficult to put down once I began. I strongly recommend it if you haven’t tried it yet.
(WWII Propaganda Strip not included)
Hollow Knight is one of the several Metroidvania games that launched this year and one of the many that I played through until the end, though not to 100% completion. You play as an adorable little beetle in a dark, subterranean world populated by all manner of other beetles, spiders, and other such creatures of darkness. Your player character, The Knight, arrives in the dilapidated village of Hollownest, where a mysterious corruption is slowly spreading from the depths and corrupting what few denizens remain. The world surrounding Hollownest is vast, and densely populated with creatures who want you dead.
The Knight has a standard suite of moves available from the beginning, and can unlock new abilities as you explore and find the right resources. There are some fairly standard upgrades to be found, like the double-jump, a charged attack, a dodge/dash with invincibility frames, as well as augments that make your sword, The Nail, stronger over time. I mentioned earlier that The Knight is adorable, and I think he is, as are some of the NPCs you come across. The thing is, the cuteness of The Knight is juxtaposed by the utter bleakness of the various levels you need to explore. There are some downright horrific moments in Hollow Knight too, most memorable for me being the reveal of The Nosk; a disturbing and challenging boss. Nosk isn’t the only challenging boss in the game of course, in fact most combat encounters can be really challenging. Hollow Knight was clearly inspired by Metroid and Castlevania in terms of level layout, but in terms of theming, atmosphere, and combat design Hollow Knight reminds me a lot of that one Fromsoft game that people like to bring up when talking about other really good, challenging games.
There were multiple times when I fell in combat, not just against bosses but against normal enemy encounters. Unlike King’s Field and Armored Core though, there were many instances where the platforming was challenging enough to do me in. The greatest challenge for me, that I was able to overcome, was a section of the game called The White Palace. There are a handful of enemies to fight here, but it’s primarily a platform challenge and out of all of the platforming I’ve done in 2017, if not in general, I can’t recall another gauntlet that was so relentless though ultimately satisfying to complete.
Not that I completed the game in its entirety: There are multiple endings to unlock and even though beating the White Palace is necessary to see one of them, I also needed to beat a specific boss which I just couldn’t handle at the time. I think in total there are five endings to Hollow Knight and of them I’ve seen 2. There’s still a lot of content I haven’t come across yet in Hollow Knight, and that’s just the base game: I haven’t even looked at the expansions yet. I really enjoyed Hollow Knight, though ultimately it was a little bit too much for me to complete.
(Adorable character, disturbing settings, difficult combat. Sounds like a trinity to me)
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was such a strong system seller that more copies of the Switch version sold than actual Switch consoles. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that before, and I’m not sure if that’ll happen again. The game begins with Link waking up in a weirdly high-tech looking, liquid-filled sarcophagus. A quick tutorial tells you how to move, and how to climb, and within about a minute you’ll step out of the cave you’re in to find the vast land of Hyrule stretching out before you. You quickly learn you’re on the Great Plateau, a vast and incredibly open tutorial area that should help you get to grips with a majority of the game’s systems.
You’re directed to a tower and three shrines, and while the utility of the towers is constant (ie: revealing more of the overall map), the utility of the shrines is quite a lot more important on the great plateau than anywhere else in Hyrule. By completing the Shrines on the Great Plateau, you unlock bombs, stasis, cryosis, and magnesis, functionalities for your Sheikah Slate. The three abilities work on a cooldown, but the utility of each is invaluable. Bombs are an unlimited resource now, and there are two types: timer based and remote-detonated. The drawback is that they do pitiful levels of damage to enemies and can’t be powered up. Stasis stops objects in time. Striking an object that’s in stasis will build up kinetic energy which is released when stasis ends, usually causing the object to go flying from the built-up force. Cryosis creates pillars of ice in bodies of water, and is incredibly useful for travel. Magnesis can move and manipulate metal objects, like otherwise unobtainable chests on the bottom of ponds or otherwise out of reach. After making it through the three plateau shrines and scanning the plateau tower, you’re given the Sail Cloth which is the only way to get down to Hyrule Proper and explore the rest of the land.
Alternatively, you can run straight to Hyrule Castle and attempt to defeat Calamity Ganon immediately. It’s possible, and the Hylian Shield can only be found in Hyrule Castle, but when you leave the Great Plateau it’s likely you’ll only have 3 or 4 hearts and a single Stamina wheel. You won’t have any significant protective clothing, you won’t have any Guardian Abilities, you won’t have any significantly powerful weapons, you won’t have any food or the resources to craft any of what I’ve mentioned above. It’ll be suggested that you head to Kakariko Village first, or any of the other towns, to assess how Hyrule has been doing during the century you’ve been missing. Everything you do however, will make you stronger and decrease the strength of Calamity Ganon. For every 4 Shrines you complete, you’ll be able to trade in Shrine Orbs for either more Stamina or more Heart Points. Shrines that feature weapons can be revisited after a certain Lunar event so you can restock on those (sometimes very powerful) weapons. Once you learn how to parry attacks, you may learn quite quickly that any shield can be used to parry any parryable attack, even if you don’t believe that a pot lid can stand up to a laser beam.
(Cloud of Darkness, you know like Final Fantasy III...or that one Fantastic Four movie)
I like how my skill as a player, as well as Link’s skill and loadout, were both getting better as I played Breath of the Wild, it made me feel a sense of synergy between myself and the character I was controlling. What I don’t like is how quickly weapons degrade, but as I mentioned before, if you know where to find specific weapons you can essentially farm them after a while. Collecting and trading in Korok Seeds can increase the number of weapons, shields, and bows you can carry too, so after enough exploring it got to the point where I was carrying enough equipment that the high degradation levels of those weapons didn’t seem to be as great of an issue. It can be really annoying to have a weapon break within the first couple hours of gameplay, but I feel like the weapon degradation issue is overblown. Hyrule itself is incredibly vast and features several biomes to explore. Climbing up mountains will take Link into climates that are cold enough to harm him if he’s not wearing cold-resistant clothing. The volcanic Death Mountain is so hot that Link could potentially spontaneously combust. Areas of the map that are subject to heavy thunderstorms pose a significant risk of lightning strikes to Link if he has any metal equipped.
There are systems in place that can help you survive the harsher environments of Hyrule if you know where to look too; like eating spicy food to survive in the cold, staying in the shade to stave off overheating, making potions out of bugs and monster parts to not spontaneously combust, etc. The weakest link of Breath of the Wild for me would be the dungeons. If I wanted to be generous, I could say that the shrines count as dungeons in their own right and thus, there are well over a hundred dungeons, but realistically there are only four. Since weapons are easy to come by and disposable, and the tablet abilities are offer up all of the utility of the items from previous entries in the series, all you really get out of the dungeons are a few puzzles and a boss fight in a more visually interesting setting than what you’ll see in the shrines. If anything you’re losing out on a harder final boss scenario: if you choose to skip the dungeons, those bosses will appear in Hyrule Castle and fight you alongside Calamity Ganon.
There is one thing that comes from completing the dungeons, and it’s abilities given to you by the spirit of the warrior who failed to protect it before you. These abilities aren’t necessary to complete the game, and off the top of my head I can only recall one of them anyway (the one that creates a gale under you, allowing you to soar up quite high and get a head start on a climb or glide). The more you explore, the more you collect, the more your power yourself up, the more underwhelming the final encounter with Calamity Ganon may seem. In spite of this, exploring Hyrule is incredibly satisfying. The land shows signs of ruin and monsters roam the land, but the sweeping plains, mountains, rivers, etc of Hyrule are teeming with life and filled with secrets waiting to be uncovered.
The soundtrack is subtle, never really making itself known unless you engage a creature in combat or are watching a cutscene. It makes exploring really peaceful and immersive to me. There are even settled locations on the map where you can pet dogs! Out of every Nintendo console I’ve picked up on day 1, I can’t think of another instance when a day one launch title wound up as my favorite game for that console except for this one.
(It's just so good. Zelda hasn't been this good in a long time)
Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 only features 4 games and frankly, I don’t see why there were 2 collections instead of 1 considering how old these games are. Age aside though, Mega Man 7, 8, 9, and 10 are excellent. Mega Man 7 originally launched on the Super Nintendo and introduced an entirely new art style to the series while also trying to not be too much like the Mega Man X series that also existed on the Super Nintendo. Mega Man 8 launched on fifth gen consoles (ie: the Playstation and Sega Saturn). Unlike a lot of games to launch during that time frame, Mega Man 8 stuck to 2D but it did add anime cutscenes to accentuate the plot.
Mega Man 9 and 10 launched in 2008 and 2010, reintroducing the series after 12 years and being presented in the glorious NES style. Mechanically, if you’ve played 1 Mega Man game you’ve essentially played them all. Dr. Wiley has enticed 8 Robot Masters to engage in antisocial behavior for the sake of World Domination and it’s up to Dr. Light’s ultimate creation Mega Man to make things right. You can choose any of the 8 levels to play through in any order, but there is an optimal order based on specific weapons that each Robot Master is weak against. It’s possible to complete any level with your starting weapons in all of the games, which is great for challenge runs, and the later games in the collection do offer speed and challenge options.
There are certain power-ups that can trivialize some of the platforming challenges, but overall the Mega Man games, especially in this collection, seem nicely balanced and inviting to newcomers to the series. At first it might look like a hard sell if you wanted to push the second Legacy Collection over the first, after all the first collection features 6 games, but the variety in art style between Mega Man 7 through 10, as well as the additional playable characters in 9 and 10, is enough of a selling point that I would absolutely recommend it to anybody. It’s definitely a better value than trying to get these games individually if nothing else.
(If you like one Mega Man game, you probably like the other 10 too)
Metroid: Samus Returns is a total remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus for the original Game Boy. I’ve never played that before, but I’ve played this remake so many times I’ve filled up and over-ridden the 3 save slots available to me. This game begins more or less as soon as the first ends: With Samus having traced The Metroid race to their homeworld of SR-388. Her mission is to eradicate every last Metroid, but it won’t be a simple task to complete considering how hostile every creature on this planet is. Exploring SR-388 reveals equipment and weapons that give Samus better armor, more health, new weapons, and new abilities, but the map as a whole is sectioned off and isn’t fully explorable from the start. There are gates that require Metroid DNA before they unlock for Samus, and even as new areas open up to her there will usually be a room or several that remain inaccessible until you find the right weapon or item to unlock them. Sequence breaking (that is, skipping early areas of the game through mastery of controls) may not be possible in Samus Returns, but returning to old areas with new equipment and potentially facing new threats is the more important aspect of these types of games to me.
The main goal of Samus Returns is the complete destruction of the Metroid race, which could be boring if the Metroids remained constant. The first time you encounter the floating jellyfish-vampires could be harrowing, especially if you meet multiple in the same cramped hallway, but figuring out how to take care of them isn’t difficult. Luckily, around the time it might start to feel routine, that’s when they start to metamorph into different, more dangerous forms. It starts with larger, armored forms, but they grow even larger, and more resilient over time. Overall, there are 5 forms of Metroid to worry about with a unique 6th form that acted as the final boss in the original and which killed me multiple times the first time I played Samus Returns. Aside from the Metroids, there are 3 unique bosses to deal with, and on my first playthrough they were really challenging for me. The Dig-bot specifically is a puzzle-boss who required patients and a mastery of my abilities that I wasn’t expecting. The final boss seemed weird and a bit out of place, especially considering the beginning section of Super Metroid, Metroid 3. It was a fine cameo, but I think it would have worked better as an optional boss instead of the mandatory final boss.
Samus Returns features a lot of different types of environment, but there’s nothing really new or unique if you’re familiar with the series. Alien planet surface, mines, acid mines, lava mines, water mines, derelict facilities of some sort, and connecting caves/cliffs. I really like how Samus’ armor changes every time you find a new armor upgrade, even though it’s a cosmetic thing that doesn’t really affect much, but it’s a nice way to show you’ve been making progress on your journey in addition to the steadily increasing number of missiles and health you’ve also likely been finding.
The new Aeion weapons turned out to be a lot more useful than I expected them to be too: The beam-burst is a highly effective weapon, the lightning shield gets you through otherwise impassible obstacles, phase shift slows down time which also gets you to otherwise unreachable locations, but also makes combat easier, and scan pulse is the most effective mapping tool/breakable wall detector I’ve seen in the series. Another addition that hasn’t been in any other Metroid game is a parry attack that Samus can use by tapping the Y button. It’s a really useful move, the tells are easy to read, and it stuns everything it connects with, including bosses. It doesn’t trivialize combat, but it does slow combat down and it’s still possible to get overwhelmed if multiple enemies are trying to attack you at once. As I said before, I played through Samus Returns multiple times over since it launched. The 3DS might not be relevant anymore but this is an absolute must-play game for that platform. It may not be my game of the year overall, but it’s definitely my 3DS game of the year.
(She never really hunts bounties though, does she?)
Night in the Woods begins with Mae returning to her hometown of Possum Springs after dropping out of college. The exact circumstances for her decision aren’t stated outright, but there’s enough information conveyed that I was able to take a guess, but that wasn’t until after a few hours of gameplay. The gameplay of Night in the Woods isn’t so much gameplay though; Night in the Woods is a narrative focused experience with a handful of puzzle elements and the core deciding factor in your experience being choices in actions and dialog. There’s some light platforming that you can do, and failing to do so can make you miss out on meeting a character completely. The main characters who you need to talk to in order to progress the narrative are your parents and childhood friends.
I liked talking to Mae’s Dad; he seemed content to sit on the couch and watch TV but I never got the impression that he was judgemental of Mae’s decision to leave school. Mae’s mom is understanding at first, but a few days after coming home she asks the all-important, and very valid, question of ‘why’. I sympathized with Mae’s Mom and even as things heated up a bit, I made it a point to always talk to her when I was given the chance. Then there are Mae’s childhood friends: Gregg, his boyfriend Angus, and Bae. There’s a split in the narrative where you can choose to spend more time with Bae or with Gregg, and I chose to do a Bae playthrough, but there are still a lot of opportunities to talk to and hang out with Gregg and Angus. Night in the Woods explores the theme of change and the transition from childhood into adulthood. The familiar town of Possum Springs is not as familiar as Mae had hoped, and the closure of a mine has thrown the town into economic turmoil.
A much closer issue at hand as far as Mae is concerned is the disappearance of another friend of hers, Casey. The mystery deepens and forces Mae and her friends into action when they witness a strangely dressed adult abduct a teenager right in front of their eyes during a party. The strongest beats of the abduction and conspiracy plotlines occur infrequently, for the most part Night in the Woods is a game about Mae reconnecting with her friends and, through those bonds, working through her mental health issues alongside them. In a lot of ways Mae is a very immature character, and she gets called out on it multiple times as the plot unfolds. Regardless of this, she’s never abandoned by her friends or family. This story and its subject matter resonated with me in a way that, as I write this, I realize may not strike people in the same way.
There’s depth and complexity to the main cast though, and that’s always a welcome aspect in all forms of fiction. In terms of gameplay, Night in the Woods is light. This isn’t a point and click adventure game in the same way that Thimbleweed Park is, and if the narrative doesn’t resonate with you the handful of minigames and the platforming probably won’t keep you engaged. As I said already though, I felt strongly for this story and its characters. This is probably my favorite narrative-driven game from 2017, possibly even my favorite indie, and I urge anybody who’s interested in this type of game to give it a try.
(It took a lot of hard work and a lot of talent to make this game. It really shows)
Opus Magnum is an absolutely diabolical puzzle game. You play as an alchemist and there’s a story, but that’s not what I came here for. The easiest way for me to describe Opus Magnum is to say you’re engaging in alchemy by means of clockwork. At the beginning of each task, you’re told which product you need to produce and how many need to be made to complete the stage. You’re also given a specific resource or resources which you’ll need to craft your final product. Certain elements, like arms, are always available to you but you don’t always have access to all of the elements required to craft the final product directly. It’s up to you to use the resources you have to connect elements, transmute them into new elements, break down molecule strands into elements that you can use, and ultimately finish the task with a clockwork alchemy machine that’s compact, and efficient.
Part of what makes Opus Magnum so great is that you’re free to solve the puzzles in a myriad of ways. Once you find a puzzle solution, you can keep working on that solution to either make it more efficient by either making it smaller, reduce the number of elements to make it faster, or less expensive to use. You could just as easily stop once you have a rough, if effective, puzzle solution, but you’re given incentive to optimize your solution once you reach one. If you feel like you need a break from the machinery and intense molecular puzzle solving, there’s a side game called Sigmar’s Garden which is similar to mahjong.
You’re essentially just matching colored symbols until you clear the board. There isn’t very much incentive to play Sigmar’s Garden other than a couple of Steam achievements and to unwind a little bit from the main game. Opus Magnum is just a fantastic indie-puzzle game; I dove into it in a huge way last year. It absolutely won’t hold your hand, but once I started to wrap my mind around it, it really clicked for me and I loved every minute of it. Check this one out if you like puzzles, check this one out if you like to support indie developers.
(In a way, everything is just alchemy)
Sonic Mania is a fan game, a return to 2D Sonic gameplay that may be familiar to you if you played the first 3 games or possible Sonic CD. You play as the titular Hedgehog and it’s up to you to stop the nefarious Dr. Eggman Robotnic and his latest batch of evil robots...and also play against him in a game of Puyo-Puyo. The game is broken up into standard, side-scrolling, 2D plarforming stages and, if you play well enough, bonus stages where you chase a robot using a from-behind point of view. What Sonic Mania understands about Sonic gameplay is that speed isn’t the main focus so much as it’s a reward for being familiar with the level you’re playing in. Sonic can move extremely quickly, but there are multiple tiers to each of the levels and there’s usually one or two optimal routes to take from the beginning of each stage to the end. There are 12 levels in total, broken up into 2 acts each, and all of them feature some kind of boss encounter by their end.
The various settings and boss encounters start out somewhat familiar; there are zones that feature green plants and chemical hills, there are also familiar bosses to encounter like the Death Egg Robot and Metal Sonic. I didn’t spend too much time with Sonic as a kid, so I don’t know how much nostalgia baiting is really going on in Sonic Mania, but without that attachment I had a ton of fun playing this. Finding the most lucrative routes in each stage was usually as simple as finding the easiest way to get up, but I never felt like taking a lower or middle path slowed me down all that drastically. From what I remember of earlier Sonic games, I recall there being more instances of sudden stop-points, either an unfortunately placed enemy or just a wall. Those are still here, I just remember it being more frustrating in those older games. There’s an expansion that lets you play as additional characters, but I haven’t downloaded that.
The base version was fun, if a bit on the easy side. It’s just as satisfying to stop moving and let the physics engine roll you down a hill in Sonic Mania as it was in the original game. Unlocking Super Sonic is pretty quick, and playing as him trivializes a lot of the challenge outside of the platforming ones. I’m not really sure what else there is to say about Sonic Mania: I had a lot of fun playing it when usually I don’t care too much about Sonic games. I definitely liked this more than Lost Worlds or any of the other recent 3D Sonic games I’ve played, and I’ve played more of Mania recently than any of the classic entries. I would recommend it to an outsider, but I couldn’t break it down like someone who’s more involved with the franchise.
(I've come down with some kind of Mania)
Steamworld Dig 2 isn’t the second game in the Steamworld franchise, but it plays similarly to the first Steamworld Dig in that you play as a robot whose primary means of interacting with the world is through...well, digging. Dorothy, your playable character, is looking for the main character of Steamworld Dig, Rusty, who has been missing since the events of the first Dig game. Dorothy begins in the town of El Machino, where the locals can be spoken to if you want hints on what may have happened to Rusty, what those weird machines underground may be, and just for some good, old fashioned upgrades to yourself and your equipment. The deeper you dig, the more resources you find, and those resources can be traded for cash which is traded for upgrades.
The more you explore beneath the town, the harder the ground and the more rocks you’ll come across so it’s really important to upgrade yourself whenever the opportunity presents itself. Dorothy is a steam-powered robot, so special abilities like the pressure bombs and pneumatic drilling arm you find are powered by water. You can refill your store of water, and increase your capacity to hold water, by speaking to the townsfolk. There are also water sources underground, so it never felt necessary to retreat to the surface every time I ran out of water. Restoring health is a different matter however, and the creatures I’ve run across while exploring the mines beneath El Machino usually put up a decent fight, especially when they appear in large numbers. Of course, that’s even if you see them beforehand: light management is an important factor to consider in Dig 2 but torches are cheap enough that I was usually never without, and there are many areas of the mines with bioluminescent fungi, glowing crystals, or just shimmering enemies.
For the most part though, what I remember of Steamworld Dig 2 is the simple pleasure of exploration and mining. There’s also that great feeling of realizing I missed an ore vein in an earlier area of the mine and effortlessly reaching it with my upgraded digging tools when earlier on it would have taken more time and effort to get to it. The first game featured some combat and a single boss, but Steamworld Dig 2 features 3 bosses. None are particularly difficult, but they can change the arena around you so it’s possible that carelessness on your part could result in a sudden lava-dip. Like the first one Dig 2 isn’t a very long game, and the ending leads almost directly into Steamworld Heist from a narrative point of view. It would have been great if there was more to Steamworld Dig 2, but I like how it’s essentially more of the first game in itself. It may not have been my favorite game of 2017, but I had a lot of fun with it.
(It's a little short, but it's fun to just...ya know...dig)
Part of me wants to say that Subsurface Circular is more of a visual novel than a game. The character you play as, a robot known in-universe as a Tek, doesn’t actually move from their seat on the titular Subsurface Circular. As you ride the rails you find yourself in a number of instances wherein you have a selection of people to talk to. These are the puzzles that need to be figured out: based on context clues in dialog you’ll need to figure out what to say to the other passengers to move the plot along.
What starts out as an investigation as to the whereabouts of a missing Tek and a Red Tek who is thought to be involved in the disappearance. This blooms into a larger plot about a string of missing Teks, growing resentment towards Teks by the larger human populations, and a possible takeover by Teks of the human city above. You don’t see any of the city, or any of the humans at all. Frankly, this entire game could be text based with no graphics whatsoever and almost nothing would be lost from the experience. It’s a really interesting story and navigating the text-based puzzles kept me intrigued from beginning to the end. Highly recommended, it’s on Steam for about $6 at base.
(I have trouble finding cyberpunk that I like, but this is definitely one of the good ones)
Based on my past with the fully 3D Mairo games I’ve played, I wasn’t expecting to think too much of Super Mario Odyssey. Before it launched, the 3DS and Wii U games (3D Land and 3D World) were my favorite 3D Mario games, but Super Mario Odyssey was an incredibly pleasant surprise for me. Odyssey starts out with Mario getting beaten to a pulp and tossed off of one of Bowser’s airships. The King of all Koopa has kidnapped Princess Peach again and is flying to all of the lands in the world to collect key items to make his dream wedding come true. Mario lands in a mysterious, Tim Burton-esq Cap Kingdom, where the friendly and not-at-all creepy Cappy agrees to help Mario get Peach since Bowser kidnapped Cappy’s sister Tiara so really they’re going to the same place anyway.
The Cap Kingdom is a relatively small area, but it introduces Power Moons, coins, gives you a lot of space to practice the new movement mechanics, and after you’ve collected enough Power Moons you gain access to The Odyssey: a heavily damaged, hat-shaped airship that acts as a hub. The more Power Moons you collect, the farther The Odyssey can travel, and the more visually appealing it becomes. Collected coins can be exchanged at shops for new hats and clothes for Mario to wear. You can also buy stickers for The Odyssey, health-up items, and lives, and while that isn’t too much utility, it’s more than I’m used to and potentially more than has ever been in a Super Mario game before now. The costumes don’t really do anything, but it’s nice to dress up in a chef’s coat and hat while you’re in the food world if you’re into themes, and at all other times it’s nice to dress up as Waluigi and cry in the knowledge that this is as close as we’re ever going to get to an officially licensed Waluigi game.
If it wasn’t clear Super Mario Odyssey is a massively open-ended, collectathon platformer. Movement is key to progress and success, and that movement is a whole lot of fun just coming to grips with the movement controls. Mario can waddle, he can run, he can jump, he can roll, he can jump longer distances by rolling first, he can do that butt slam thing, Mario can jump, throw his hat, jump onto and bounce off of the hat, throw his hat a second time, and dive toward it to cover a whole lot of ground relatively quickly, and that’s not even mentioning his mid-air twirl which acts as a semi-hover.
There are certain objects and surfaces that Mario can climb, but for the most part you’ll have to find ledges to jump up onto if you want to get Mario onto higher planes. If you see an area that looks like Mario MIGHT be able to get there if you try hard enough, odds are you can make Mario get there and there will be something, possibly something small, possibly a pile of gold, waiting for you to encourage your explorative impulses. Like in previous games Mario can jump onto enemies to attack them, but he can also attack with his hat....er Cappy, either directly or he can throw Cappy onto the heads of his enemies to take over their bodies. Cappy having this ability but Tiara not having this ability is strange to me, but I’m not going to think about it too much because you effectively get to play portions of this game as a T-Rex, a tank, and a certain other boss in a really cool, if short, sequence.
Using Cappy to take over the bodies of your enemies is Odyssey’s substitute for the usual power-up mechanics in previous Mario games. If you were a big fan of the Cloud Power-up or the Tanooki Suit you’re out of luck, but the variety of enemies and enemy abilities makes up for it. The lack of traditional power-ups may be a sticking point, but I think the boss fights are a little bit more of an issue. There are some really good ones in Odyssey, like the giant octopus, the mecha-millipede, The Hellkite Dragon cameo, Bowser, but there are also a set of semi-recurring bosses who are all just kind of lame: The Broodals are a family of five dapper, hat-wearing bunnies. They live on the Dark Side of the Moon and were hired to plan Bowser’s wedding, but they just end up feeling like throw-away boss encounters. Madam Brood doesn’t attack you so much as let her Chain-Chomp do her fighting for her. Hariet, the only other girl, uses bombs, Spewart vomits poison, Rango has his own attack-hat, and Topper is tall (he doesn’t wear a top hat though, he wears a wide brimmed boater, go figure).
It’s nice to see some new faces, even if they do seem kind of throw-away and weak in the main game, and I think it’s important that Nintendo never gives up on creativity when it comes to character design. The rabbit design does start to make sense when you get to The Moon during the post-game, and it’s in that part of the game when they really put up a challenging fight. Super Mario Odyssey was a really pleasant surprise to me; I was hoping this would be good considering how long it’s been since Nintendo has released a Mario game like this but my expectations were exceeded. I got more out of Breath of the WIld, but when it comes to Mario games this one has become my favorite by far.
(It really lived up to the hype: If anything it wasn't hyped enough)
In the town of Thimbleweed Park, mysterious things are happening and a murder is waiting to be solved. Throughout the course of the game you play as one of several people with wildly different backgrounds, personalities, and problems to solve. Thimbleweed Park is a point and click adventure game, presented and playing out in the style of Maniac Mansion or the classic Curse of Monkey Island games. You explore the town, talking to people and collecting items in the hope that you stumble upon the same strand of logic that the developers have lain down in pursuit of truth and progress.
The cast of characters, as I said, is very diverse as are their goals within the game: Agents Rey and Reyes are trying to reunite after getting separated early in their investigation of Thimbleweed Park. Delores Edmund has returned to the town to find her father, Franklin. Franklin Edmund needs to find out the who, how, and why he was murdered, and how to move on. Finally there’s Ransom the Insult Clown who was cursed after going too far during an act and insulting the wrong person. As diverse as these objectives are there are elements that tie them all together, and by the end things get very complicated and very meta. I really liked the writing in Thimbleweed Park: As I said before, the diverse cast was really engaging, the comedy mostly landed with me, and none of the puzzles stumped me for too long.
Given the set-up of the game there seem to be elements of non-linearity and openness when it comes to who you play as, and when. Being so story heavy, there isn’t too much I can really say about Thimbleweed Park outside of how it works mechanically (point, click, collect item, use item on item, or use item on NPC, progress), and whether or not I liked it (I did, very much so). I strongly recommend this if you haven’t tried it, but this genre is so niche that I’m sure everybody who was interested already played the Hell out of this game.
(A Fun meta-game you can play with this is, Guess the Reference)
Voodoo Vince: Remastered is Voodoo Vince again, but with slightly nicer graphics and available on Steam and Xbox One apparently. You play as Vince, the third-best Voodoo Doll in Madam Charmaine’s shop who surprisingly isn’t voiced by Adam Corolla despite what I assumed back when I first played Voodoo Vince in the mid-2000’s. The game itself features several massive levels to explore with a lot of enemies to fight and items to collect. There are collectibles that increase your health, collectibles that let you use your voodoo powers more frequently, and collectibles that let Vince use new voodoo attacks (a cosmetic difference more than anything). Unlike worse games, like Banjo-Kazooie and A Hat in Time, Voodoo Vince focuses more on combat than collection.
There are mobs of enemies that can be cleared away through either melee attacks or a screen-clearing voodoo attack, with some voodoo attacks being unique depending on level-specific set pieces. The boss fights furthermore, are built around platforming your way to a set piece rather than directly attacking the usually large creature who would see you torn to little burlap ribbons. I mentioned Adam Corolla earlier because this game is also something of a comedy: Vince delivers his lines in a deadpan tone, and in addition to snark there are a lot of visual gags that I really liked years ago and still appreciate now. This is one of many games that I really liked from the original Xbox that I don’t remember anybody talk about, and I didn’t even know it was remastered until a year or two later. It’s absolutely a hidden gem and well worth a look if you’re into collection-based platformers.
(An overlooked, and excellent, 3D Platforming collection game)
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is a remake of the 1989 Master System game Wonder Boy III. I find that really hard to believe though for the following reason: Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, is an open-ended platformer where you play as a knight who was transformed into a dragon. You gain the power to transform into other animals which will give you access to new levels, let you collect items in areas you’ve already explored, and allow you to power yourself up in terms of health and equipment. For a game from 1989, Wonder Boy III sounds a whole lot like a Metroidvania and that genre-title wasn’t coined until years later when Symphony of the Night launched.
This iteration of the game is a remake which launched on the Nintendo Switch and other platforms, and which I got a lot of mileage out of during my first few months as a Switch owner. As a remake the art style was completely overhauled, but the gameplay seems to be exactly the same as it was on the 80’s console. There’s even a dedicated button that instantly switches the visuals from the modern style into the original graphics. I didn’t have the Master System growing up, so nostalgia didn’t play a role in my enjoyment of this game at all. I just had a whole lot of fun platforming through the levels, realizing that I probably went to a tougher area than I should have gone to, completing it anyway, and carrying on. It’s a charming enough game, but even when I wound up in a higher level area than I should have been in it was a really easy ride. The platforming was rarely lethal, and it was usually easy to figure out an enemy’s attack patterns before they could do too much damage.
The boss fights were fairly challenging though, and interesting too since they were all visually interesting dragons like the fat samurai, the undead mummy, and the one that looks just like Mecha-Gigan of Godzilla fame. As I mentioned before you get transformed into a dragon and eventually transform back into your human form, but there are other animal transformations and every one of your forms has uses and abilities. The mouse form for instance is the only one that can get into small spaces, the hawk form can fly, and the Mer-form can breathe and move normally underwater to name a few. Wonder Boy was either really ahead of its time or this remaster is a remake with a really cool visual setting that can be toggled on and off. From what I’ve seen of playthroughs of the original though, it just looks like this is a really faithful remake of a classic game, with fantastic new art, and the gold standard for what a remake should be.
(It's hard to believe this was originally released in 1989! It wasn't this pretty of course, but still!)
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is very similar to Xenoblade Chronicles and X in that it looks and plays very much like an MMO-RPG, but unlike those 2 games I consider this one to be good. Don’t get me wrong, MMO-style combat still bores me to tears but if there’s some incentive to get through it I can overlook the tedium. In Xenoblade Chronicles X the promise of a Mecha and eventually a squadron of Mecha kept me playing. In Xenoblade Chronicles 2 the motivation to keep going is essentially Waifu-Pokemon and shonen-style form changes. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 starts fairly soberly: you play as Rex who sails through the cloud sea scavenging scrap from the world below until you meet Pyra, a flame-elemental sword who protects, and needs to be protected by, Rex while the two grow and develop.
Pyra is just one of several Blade characters who function as a party member as well as a weapon you can equip and use for their stat buffs. Some are met as the story unfolds, some characters become Blades, and others are found through exploration and side quests. The Blades take on one of three roles: attackers, healers, and tanks, as well as one of 8 elemental alignments. There are generic-looking common blades that can be crafted, and it’s also possible to craft unique, rare blades. The farther along in the plot I went, the more of these Blades I was given access to, and the more incentive I felt to continue playing. As I continued playing though, there were more story beats that I really liked. Characters revealing that they were secretly a Blade all along, characters revealing that they were actually 2 then 3 separate entities, the islands you explore actually being living creatures, those creatures getting into conflicts with one another, things ramp up at a greater rate in Xenoblade Chronicles 2 than they seemed to have in the previous pair of games.
Even when I wasn’t progressing the plot, the various areas you end up in are vast, littered with collectibles to find, and populated with a variety of creatures to fight. Unlike previous games in the series, I didn’t notice as many instances of excessively large, excessively high-level creatures nesting in a low-level, plot essential area, though they’re still around and waiting for me to test myself.
(Finally, an Xenoblade Chronilce that's GOOD)
I really didn’t like Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, or A Hat in Time, but I absolutely loved Yooka-Laylee. Yooka and Laylee are a fun animal pairing made up of the easy-going lizard Yooka, and his cynical, loud-mouth companion Laylee, a purple bat. The plot kicks off as Capital B and the nefarious Dr. Quack activate a machine that begins sucking in all of the books in the region, including the all-important One Book, owned by Yooka and Laylee and with the power to rewrite reality. To retrieve their book back, Yooka and Laylee need to infiltrate the Hiveory Towers corporate headquarters where Capital B and Dr. Quack are waiting, and noticing that the One Book is missing a whole lot of pages, or Pagies. In addition to collecting Pagies Yooka and Laylee can collect a myriad of other things like tonics, coins, ghosts, quills, golden skulls...but all you really need are the Pagies.
The Pagies can unlock new levels, but they can also be used to expand the levels you’ve already unlocked, and also purchase new abilities. Like with a lot of 3D platformers the camera can take some getting used to, and can also get stuck on terrain from time to time, but it’s a fairly minor inconvenience that’s easily remedied by moving around the stage a bit. There’s a vast and diverse cast of characters populating the world, offering quests, mini-games, and power-ups. Despite there being tons of collectibles hidden within the vast worlds, you’re not required to collect 100% of everything to make progress. Other games of this type that do require 100% collection to progress have always felt really restrictive to me, so here it’s really freeing and makes a potentially frustrating experience a whole lot less so. The boss fights are also really diverse and fairly challenging to take on, though depending on which abilities you have unlocked one or two of them can be trivialized...well The Great Rampo can be trivialized at any rate.
Thinking back, the means by which you fight the bosses vary greatly. Rampo is fought by climbing a ramp, dodging obstacles being thrown at you, and punching a giant face several times. The fight against I.N.E.P.T. however is literally on a rail and in the style of a Kartos minigame, and the fight against Planette (my personal favorite) is done during a boating section. I’ve said this a few times already, but the amount of diversity not only when it comes to the characters but with the gameplay is something to be admired and the game is so well put together that nothing really felt broken or under-developed. There weren’t really any moments where I fell through the environment, and even when I was platforming in areas that I probably wasn’t meant to be, more often than not I found a collectible or something. Part of why I hated A Hat in Time is because it didn’t feel finished, but Yooka-Laylee, despite being independently developed, plays more like a triple-A.
(This game is incredbile, give it a second chance)
As with most of my other entries in this decade project, there are a few other games from this year that I know I played but which I have even less of an opinion on than my ‘meh’ games for whatever reason. Battlechef Brigade for example has an incredible premise: kill monsters and use what they drop to cook within a time limit, also the story is a tournament-arc-based anime. I loved the concept, but I just didn’t care too much for the gameplay. Bulb Boy is a puzzle game with a really disturbing visual style. I loved the presentation, but the puzzles were more frustrating than fun to me. Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy is a perfect recreation of the first 3 Crash games. I played through the first and really liked it. I played through the second as a kid, but I haven’t touched 2 or 3 remastered. I don’t dislike Crash, I just got burned out and haven’t had the right kind of energy to get back into it.
I put about 5 hours into Disgaea 5 Complete, and it didn’t do anything for me. The combat reminded me a bit of Fire Emblem, but I had no idea what was going on with the story and just couldn’t engage. I own Fire Emblem Warriors, but it’s sealed and I doubt I’ll ever open it. I know the general experience of the Warriors games though and I’m sure it’s really fun. I don’t remember what Hollow is, but I’m fairly sure it was an atmospheric puzzle game; bought cheap during a sale, forgotten about soon after. Kamiko was another game bought for very cheap during the first few weeks of the Switch’s life. It’s a top-down action game that involves sword-wielding Powerpuff Girls fighting robots and engaging in switch-puzzles. I didn’t spend too much time with it, though mechanically it’s perfectly fine. Mighty Gunvolt Burst is one that I vaguely remember: A Mega Man-like but with extra rules in place if you want to destroy the enemy robots (ie: Dash into them). It looked cool on paper, but I didn’t care for it once I had it.
Plague Road is off-brand Darkest Dungeon...I assume, I still haven’t played Darkest Dungeon and Plague Road bored me so thoroughly that I don’t remember much more beyond how stiff the animation is. It’s like every character is a paper-puppet. Snipperclips was a fun and fairly satisfying puzzle game, but I played it alone and finished it in a couple of hours. From what I remember of the marketing, the optimal way to play is in co-op which I just don’t do and which I don’t think is possible online. I definitely played one of the Yakuza games that launched in 2017, the problem is I don’t remember if it was 0 or Kiwami. What I do remember is The Dragon of Dojima playing all of the UFO catchers in Kamurocho, eating at all of the restaurants, and breaking spines and faces against brick walls. I really, really, liked whichever Yakuza game I played, but I can’t remember which one it was and it felt wrong to put either of them on my “Good” list when I’m being this scatter-brained about
LOOK WHO CAME: