Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

Best of 2017: Top 15 Games

Here we are. Time to count down my favourite videogames from a truly phenomenonal year for the medium (The best in ten years?). There are some games on this list that I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone even remotely interested, but the real measure of 2017 is the games that don’t make the list because I just didn’t have time to get into them. And no, I don’t just mean games other people liked but didn’t really grab me. I’m talking Horizon Zero Dawn, Cuphead, Yakuza Zero, Steamworld Dig 2, Night in the Woods, Tales of Berseria, Golf Story, Gang Beasts. Games that in any other year I would have been all over. Games I’ve already seen on many other top ten lists across the internet.

Part of this can probably be attributed to my conscious decision not to ignore good games on the 3DS as long as they were coming out. I clocked nearly 200 hours of combined 2017 playtime on my 3DS according to its activity log – mostly on trains and buses – and if it weren’t for the Nintendo Switch overshadowing it on every big site and YouTube channel I would have been shocked that I wasn’t seeing some of these 3DS games on more people’s lists. Of course, the Switch was still a thing, so there are more Switch games on this page than on any other console. The rest of the numbers are made up by some delightfully surprising indie and triple-A games gripping enough to help me temporarily forget about all the other games I could be playing. What an insane year.

A game qualifies for the list if I play it for over five hours or finish it. You’ll see the platform on which I played each game in parentheses next to its title.

.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

VR BEST OF 2017 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Intriguing, but strange. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

-◊-◊-◊-◊-

.

15. ARMS (NS)

Major new IPs from Nintendo are rarer than a PC without Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds installed, so it’s a big deal when one comes along. Following in the spiritual footsteps of 2015’s Splatoon, ARMS is an attempt by Nintendo to refresh what players can expect from a fighting game, in much the same way that Splatoon injected new life into the shooter genre. Taking stylistic cues from Blizzard’s Overwatch in the character design department and infusing these designs with Nintendo wackiness, ARMS is a charming game with deceptive mechanical depth and phenomenonal 1v1 duel multiplayer. Though the rest of its modes are inherently less deep and the game’s single player mode is basic at best, ARMS is my pick for most improved game of the year post-launch, with extra incentives, modes and characters now part of the package. And let’s not forget that theme song, which slots right in alongside Nintendo’s catchiest first-party tunes. ARMS should not be overlooked by anyone buying a Switch.

Continue reading

Best of 2017: Top 10 Gaming Moments

Now that we’re finally talking about the games of 2017 themselves, it’s time to start asking the question – Is this the best year for videogame releases since 2007? Do we at last have an annum worth blowing past 2011 and taking on the year that gave us Bioshock, Modern Warfare, Mass Effect, Portal and Mario Galaxy? It’s a short question with a long answer, but perhaps so. If it is, then the ease with which I came up with content for this list makes an awful lot of sense. 2017 was a sensational year for gaming moments that encouraged some good old fashioned water cooler chat.

Even compared to previous years’ lists, this one is positively packed with story-related moments, so seriously, proceed with caution. Or don’t proceed at all.

.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

VR BEST OF 2017 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Intriguing, but strange. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

Big videogame spoilers follow!

Seriously!

-◊-◊-◊-◊-

.

10. Simulation – Prey

Oftentimes you’ll need to get through several hours of a game before reaching any big twists, rug pulls or otherwise shocking plot developments, but Prey gives you several inside the first two hours. The fact that they make such an impact is testament to how well Arkane Studios builds up the pretense of one reality before literally and figuratively shattering it with one melee attack to a glass panel. Prey mixes together a visually arresting Hollywood-style title sequence with some unsettlingly clever tutorials ending with a terrifying first encounter with an alien species, then uses a detail-rich apartment environment and a tiny bit of familial drama to turn your attention in one direction before jolting you back the opposite way. This is all rather effective to say the least at leaving you on edge, setting the stage for a claustrophobic journey of fear and intrigue.

Continue reading

Best of 2017: Top 5 Game Consoles

At this time of year, as people look back on the 12 months that were and attempt to make sense of them, it’s not uncommon to hear phrases like “It was a year of two halves”. Well, this is a list of two halves. Or it would be if you could divide five in half cleanly. You know what I mean.

By the standards I use to make this short list every year (quality of exclusive gaming releases, features and/or general usability improvements), two major gaming consoles had a pretty dour 2017, two had an absolutely incredible 2017, and one in the middle surprised a lot of people with its tenacious refusal to die. Even outside the spheres of online fanboy arguments, there were some clear winners and losers when it came to videogame consoles in 2017. It was a truly fascinating year to be an observer of the console gaming space, let alone a participant in it.

.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

VR BEST OF 2017 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Intriguing, but strange. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

-◊-◊-◊-◊-

.

5. PlayStation Vita

(LAST YEAR: 4th)

Some might question why I even see fit to include the PS Vita on this list anymore. After all, by this point Sony’s most recent portable has been declared either dead or dying for most of its actual life. Such a narrative continues to echo (faintly, it must be said) throughout a general gaming community that has long since written it off. In a year that saw the debut of the Nintendo Switch, a handheld so rich in quality indie and Japanese games that some have taken to calling it the “Vita 2”, plenty of Vita die-hards finally pulled the plug on Sony’s little beast. All things considered, the Vita’s 2017 records shows a much lower output of the fresh indie games, JRPGs and visual novels that were once its bread and butter. There were some exceptions of course – Stellar portable versions of Undertale, Danganronpa V3 and Ys VIII gave the Vita some semblance of relevance over the Switch at times throughout the year, if only for a small community of gamers – but with such a dripfeed of indie support and the (tragically) dwindling mainstream relevance of PSN trophy-hunting, the truly wondrous Playstation Vita may finally be on its last legs. Like, actually. For real this time.

Continue reading

Best of 2017: Top 5 Gaming Trends

As we switch from negative to neutral, its worth pointing out that 2017 was a year packed with worthwhile videogames to play, and this sheer volume drives the bulk of the year’s trends list. One of the reasons we arrived at such a huge number was that three big genres enjoyed quality years in the business, as did one traditionally strong geographical hotbed of development talent and one particularly noteworthy company from that location. The rest of the list is filled by an ongoing discussion on the very nature of modern game releases. But I don’t know why I’m being so cryptic – You’re about to read the list anyway (My brain is on ice as I write this in a very-well-air-conditioned waiting room – That could be it). The way I see it, these are the five biggest non-disappointing trends that guided 2017’s videogame presence.

.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

VR BEST OF 2017 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Intriguing, but strange. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

-◊-◊-◊-◊-

.

5. A-Fightin’ & A-Racin’

When you stop to think about it, it’s a little strange how few representations of certain genres crop up every year when there are so very many games coming out all the freaking time. If you’re not an open-world action adventure, sports game, competitive shooter or 2D platformer nowadays, you might as well be a curiosity. But occasionally, the stars align for a certain type of videogame, with multiple major instances of a genre releasing within a single calendar year. In 2016 that genre was the JRPG, which kind of paved the way for a somewhat more open mainstream acceptance of Persona 5 this year. In 2017 there were arguably two genres with enough clustered big releases to raise an eyebrow at – racing and fighting games.

In the former category you had the typically excellent Forza Motorsport 7 in the green corner, doing the reputation of its series no harm while doubling as the major showcase title for super-smooth 4K HDR on the Xbox One X. In the blue corner landed the beyond-long-awaited Gran Turismo Sport, holding the dual mantles of the first GT game AND the first splitscreen track-racing game on the PS4 (almost four years into its life, mind). In the middle was Project Cars 2, which received rapturous applause from the uber-hardcore sim racing community while Dirt 4 picked up its own share of good reviews for its off-road antics. And let’s not forget perhaps the best Mario Kart package in history, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

As far as fighting games are concerned, 2017 was an even bigger year, with the long-awaited (if controversial) return of the Marvel vs Capcom series in the form of Infinite and the almost universally-lauded launch of Injustice 2. A celebrated veteran returned to action for the seventh time to round out the year’s glamour trio (that’s Tekken, yo) while Street Fighter V and to a lesser extent Killer Instinct continued to receive new content and balance tweaks. But the year didn’t stop there. Fighters kept showing up in all shapes and sizes, from throwbacks and re-releases (Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers, Pokken Tournament Deluxe) to blockbuster indies both established and fresh (Nidhogg 2, Brawlhalla, Brawlout) to anime-styled (Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm 4, Guilty Gear XRD Rev 2) to completely fresh takes on the genre (Absolver, ARMS). It’s exhausting just listing them, let alone thinking how badly I get routinely beaten in every new fighting game I try.

Continue reading

Happy Fifth Birthday Wii U- Oh, OK Then

Wow, what a nifty device!

Ranking my favourite games on a Nintendo console right around some major multiple-of-five anniversary has been one of the most consistent things I’ve been able to do on this blog, not to mention one of my favourite kinds of post to write. But never before have I been able to so comprehensively make one such list on the first possible milestone. The Wii U is well and truly done and has been for months, but here we are on its five-year anniversary of release in Australia on November 30th, 2012, and I’m already able to count down my ten favourite games on the thing.

I believe it is Animal Crossing: New Leaf that features a reference within Nintendo’s own studio system to the Wii U’s failure. If you obtain a Wii U console in-game and approach it while it’s on display, you get the pithy message “Great artists aren’t always appreciated in their own time.” It’s a chuckle-worthy bit of self-deprecating humour, but it does contain a grain of truth. Due to its terrible opening 18 months, where a combination of hubris, awful all-around marketing and general industry panic resulted in a more-or-less sealed fate, the Wii U’s “time” was short and unimpressive to the masses. Luckily for the few people who did own one, however, not only did the Wii U boast the widest range of first party Virtual Console titles in the retro gaming service’s history and a pretty wonderful social media environment in the form of Miiverse, but when Nintendo’s back was to the wall, the company sure produced some amazing games. These are my absolute favourites.

Just a quick warning: I cheat on this list. Three times. Without regrets. It’s technically a top 13…

.

10. NES Remix (1&2)

Right off the bat we start with two games in one entry, but here’s a sobering thought: NES Remix is the only Wii U-exclusive game to see a sequel on the same console. That’s not why they share a position on this list though – That’d be because they are essentially two halves of one package that come with a combined price tag a fraction of what a full retail release costs. The NES Remix twins represent some of the most fun you can have with a group of friends on the Wii U – and without a strict player number cap to boot. Despite an ostensibly single-player presentation, you can lose lives so quickly in these games that they almost beg to be played in a pass-the-controller group setup. That’s almost exclusively how I played it, at least. Chopping up absolute classics with nonetheless dated mechanics and throwing them into a blender with other, perhaps less stellar 1980s games is a surprisingly effective recipe for uproarious chaos, and I really hope we haven’t seen the end of this mini-franchise.
.

9. Nintendo Land / Game & Wario

At first glance, this is a devious rule break, but there’s method to the madness. For as long as these two games have been out in the marketplace (so most of the Wii U’s lifespan), I have maintained that if you splice half of Nintendo Land and half of Game & Wario together to make one five-player party game, you get one of the very best and most unique experiences on the Wii U. Though Nintendo Land gets no shortage of hate for its poorly-received launch game status – and Game & Wario tends to get forgotten entirely – there are some genuine gems to be found across these two wacky titles. The Luigi’s Mansion-inspired ghost game in Nintendo Land was played more times in my house than most other entire games, such is its unironically ingenius 4-vs-1 multiplayer slant, and you can say something similar about Game & Wario‘s Fruit – which pits a room of watchful bystanders against one nervous player trying to blend in amongst a screen full of AI characters. Taking into account the Mario and Animal Crossing themed attractions from the former game and the Pictionary-lite mode / insane ring-toss variation from the latter, it really baffles me why Nintendo never officially paired the two collections in some capacity. No first-party release after these two showcased the one-of-a-kind potential that the Wii U’s control setup could offer.  
.

8. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE

Persona. It’s a word that will make almost any JPRG fan sit up and take notice, and it absolutely should have been found somewhere in the rather confusing title of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. Despite a premature announcement trailer that hyped up a bona fide Fire Emblem crossover with Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei series, the gameplay loop and visual style of this buried gem has much more in common with the storied SMT sub-series Persona, which has only recently broken into the wider gaming consciousness this year. Though it was spoken of within gaming circles as the game to play if you just couldn’t wait for Persona 5 on the PS4, it turns out that Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is no mere entree, and despite sharing much of the same structural Persona DNA it has plenty of worthwhile appeal all its own. In fact it is just as effective when played after Persona 5 is over, because its manically optimistic energy seems like the perfect antidote to the melancholy that the 100-hour PS4 epic can exhibit at times. Though Tokyo Mirage Sessions leans into its J-pop industry aesthetic so emphatically that it is bound to put some people off, it has plenty of critical things to say and just as importantly, the battle system, upgrade paths and character arcs are extremely satisfying. And the in-game menus are laced with neon lime green, which is a hearty bonus.

Continue reading

I Went to Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses at the Sydney Opera House

Oh look, a post that isn’t ludicrously lengthy.

At the end of last month I put to bed a small regret of mine – Half a decade ago I was presented with the opportunity to attend the Sydney debut of Symphony of the Goddesses, a worldwide concert tour immediately following on from the special Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary concerts in Japan and the USA. For reasons I can no longer remember clearly (probably funds), I did not take this opportunity. Naturally I regretted my decision pretty soon after the performance dates arrived and several of my friends raved about how good the show was. I told myself the next time I had such a chance I would not let it pass. But for years, no such chance appeared.

So when, after years of sporadic worldwide tours with varying set lists, the announcement was made that Symphony of the Goddesses would be returning to Sydney harbour this year, no price would have been too high for me to snatch up a ticket. Two years after entering the opera house for the first time to attend the Pokemon Symphonic Evolutions showcase, I was back in the venue’s main concert hall to take in the fully-realised music of one of my absolute favourite media franchises. And what an evening it was.

There are three main reasons I’d go to see an orchestral performance of a videogame music selection – The atmosphere, the craft and the arrangement. Hardly groundbreaking reasons of course, and I’m sure the majority of the people in attendance on the night had similar motivations. Atmosphere is created mostly by said people, whose collective energy and passion tend to elevate an event that otherwise gets by on a uniquely strange blend of nerdiness and class. This department provided the largest point of difference between the Pokemon concert and the Zelda one for me. At the Pokemon event, there seemed to be more themed and/or casual dress in and around the hall, while during the concert the audience reacted loudly to each track and arrangement – especially the more widely recognised ones. While the Zelda show was hardly black tie – and cosplay was there if you looked for it – I definitely noticed more of a conservative attitude to dress code in general. What’s more, during the concert you could tell a crowd favourite by a groundswell of hushed whispers and gasps rather than whoops and shouts. I can’t quite put my finger on the reason for this (perhaps Zelda’s slightly older fanbase, or the fact the concert landed on the exact weekend of PAX Australia in Melbourne) but it certainly lent the atmosphere a more reverential tone and allowed quieter pieces – of which Zelda boasts several – to shine.

Continue reading

A Week With Pokemon Silver Version in 2017

I was a few paragraphs into writing this when the SNES Classic came out and ruined everything. I came back to the post afterwards and, naturally, it then turned into several thousand words.

2017 has been an insane year for new release videogames, a fact that has become even more true over the last few months. And yet my most anticipated release date of September 2017 was the 22nd, when Nintendo and the Pokemon Company would – at long last – release Pokemon Gold and Silver on the 3DS Virtual Console (Incidentally just about the only acknowledgement by the big N this year that such a service even still exists – sorry Switch owners). Patched up with wireless trading/battling functionality and wrapped in that gorgeous 3D-compatible faux-Game Boy Color shell, just like Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow last year, they presented a mouth-watering nostalgic proposition for me on paper. In fact as a testament to the sheer value that “comfort food” media can have, I even purchased and finished the VC version of Pokemon Red a couple of weeks earlier when it went on sale in anticipation of the newer re-releases, even though I had already given my full attention to Yellow in a similar manner in 2016.

Unlike Yellow, I no longer have access to my original Pokemon Silver cartridge, so I haven’t touched the original version in any form for almost fifteen years. In light of all the Pokemon generations that have come and gone in the years since, not to mention the glut of YouTube videos, podcasts and articles on the internet praising the second generation for all its once-groundbreaking qualities, I was more than ready to give Silver another go. And then write something about it, so i could feel less guilty about all the hours spent not doing anything else. This post will probably be a little scattershot in tone, and the “screenshots” will be poor and DIY in nature, but I’ll at least try to keep my thoughts aligned with the order of the game’s events.

Continue reading