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.

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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.

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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.

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Best of 2017: Top 15 K-Pop Singles

NOTE: This list was already written when we received the news of the apparent suicide of SHINee’s Kim Jonghyun. At the time of publication this development is still less than a week old, but I cannot write it into the main article without sounding flippant about it, and so have left the list un-edited. Kim Jonghyun was literally the first male voice I heard after discovering that I liked K-Pop, and his voice also kicked off my first K-Pop Top 15 at the end of 2012. His loss has rocked the K-Pop community worldwide, and on a personal note has hit me just as hard as the Chester Bennington tragedy earlier this year. I can only imagine how his family must be feeling. He will be missed.

Ah, 2017. If you were a K-Pop fan around when I started being invested in the genre (is it even a genre anymore?) half a decade ago, and you’re still here, then congrats. Your ears have clearly been through a lot and your tastes must be resilient. Though 2016 saw many more big-name K-Pop groups bite the dust, the official dissolving of Sistar and the Wonder Girls in 2017 – alongside respective three-member exoduses from T-ara and Girls’ Generation – meant a 2017 K-Pop fan can hardly be accused of holding on to past glories.

There were quite a few fresh influences and trends worth getting excited about this year, even if they flooded the market so quickly it was hard to find quality at times. The most prevalent surely must be the KARD-and-Winner-led influx of tropical house, because at one point it felt like every group was trying on the sea-and-sand beats. Korea’s ongoing recent fascination with contemporary EDM beat drops also spread into the realm of American DJ collaborations this year – particularly so among the top-tier boy groups – and that helped solidify BTS in rarefied air on the Billboard Top 10 Artists chart in the USA. It seems K-Pop’s year-on-year growth in online popularity around the world has reached a point that no “niche” categorisation can hold back some fandoms. Let’s not forget that we now live in a world where the CinemaSins guy can riff on a Red Velvet video and get views for it. But fear not, because K-Pop was still pulling out plenty of offbeat gimmicks all its own in 2017, from the song-a-month themed schedule of Day6 to the slow revelations of new LOONA members one solo performance at a time. I found a decent amount of K-Pop to enjoy in 2017, and hopefully you did too.

As always, some rules I like to hold myself to: No more than one song from each act and no B-sides. A song needs to have its own official music video and be sung primarily in Korean to be on the list, even though this disqualifies some pretty good songs like Girl Next Door’s Deep Blue Eyes, EXO’s Electric Kiss and Dumbfoundead’s Water (although, to be fair, the latter comes from an actual American rapper). Here’s my sixth annual K-Pop Top 15 list.

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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.

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15. Don’t Wanna Cry – Seventeen

It felt like this song was around every corner when I was looking for K-Pop throughout the majority of 2017 – on YouTube, on curated streaming playlists, on podcasts – and for good reason. It may not have the most exciting backing track, bridge or rap section, but it sure has one catchy hook. Some nights I just can’t get that chorus line out of my head. I want to scream it out right now. Also, it’s Seventeen, so the choreography is amazing and executed with ridiculous accuracy to boot. Who actually wants to cry, though, Seventeen? Who?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Best of 2017: Top 5 Disappointments

As usual we’re kicking things off with a look at some of the less rosy parts of the year in entertainment media, but this time list number one is presented in an ever-so-slightly different way. Due to a list later on in my countdown series needing to be expanded, as well as the emerging patterns in 2017’s lamest entertainment news and trends allowing for some easy grouping, I’ve decided to reduce this Top 10 to a Top 5, meaning this time around I’m talking less about individually disappointing movies/games and more about the way history repeated itself in some of the least encouraging ways imaginable throughout the past year (as well as one deeply personal gaming-related frustration). These are my personal picks for the biggest entertainment media disappointments of 2017.

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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.

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5. Warner Bros Does Australia Dirty Again

Three years ago, Warner Bros Entertainment Inc. released two of the most talked-about films of the year, The LEGO Movie and John Wick. The former was a family movie and the latter most certainly wasn’t, but both flicks enjoyed a ton of critical praise for their fresh and surprising approaches to toy-spruiking animation and straightforward action respectively. But Australians who happened to take in the buzz online for the pair had to wait for their chance to watch them legally, and if piracy estimates were to be believed, many simply didn’t. Despite the fact that The LEGO Movie was largely produced in Australia, it had the greater of the two delays, and after its release the higher-ups at Aussie distributor Village Roadshow claimed their calculated lost income as a result meant it wouldn’t happen again. But alas, it happened again. The delay of The LEGO Batman Movie sucked, but John Wick Chapter 2 didn’t even have an Australian release date listed anywhere when the film hit the US in February. We ended up getting it in May, and that sure didn’t help its performance down under. Yay.

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Best of 2017 Intro

Another year, another shameless reason to keep this blog alive. Countdown season is upon us and I intend to get stuck in.

2017 wasn’t the easiest year for me professionally or personally, but from my perspective the entertainment media categories I write about (occasionally) here had a showing worthy of celebration. Even if some might say the movies weren’t much better overall than last year, my friends and I enjoyed unprecedented easy access to the cinema in 2017, meaning I got to see more new films than the last two years combined. And hey, I did go by choice to all of those movies, so it at least feels like it’s been one hell of a strong year for celluloid. K-Pop broke into the mainstream again this year on the back of some key changes within important worldwide markets, seeing the power of three letters reign supreme: BTS. It also tried on some new trends and put out plenty of jams ranging from super-chilled to hyperactive and everything in between.

As for videogames, well boy howdy. No matter who you ask, it’s been a tremendous year for videogames. Some of the very best games of the generation hit in 2017, amongst an industry that is forging its way ahead in two directions – towards better support for the new generation of 4K displays and away from the TV altogether with the innovative Nintendo Switch. That latter machine has been responsible for the vast majority of the thousands of words I’ve put up on this site in 2017, so I owe it special thanks. And if you’ve read any of the long posts I’ve written this year, or are about to read any of these lists I take such strange pleasure in putting together, I also owe you the same thanks. Let’s do this again.

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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.

Some lists contain spoilers.

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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…

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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.
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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.  
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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.

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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.

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