Saturday, 9 December 2017

[Feature] Game of the Year 2017...and some other goodies

2017! What a year for gaming! What a year indeed! This year has been nothing short of incredible for games. So when faced with the task of narrowing down ten games for this list came about, I can honestly tell you I was not looking forward to it in the slightest. There are so many games that I played from this year that didn’t even make the list despite the fact that they’re all great games. We’re talking the likes of South Park: The Fractured But Whole; Gravity Rush 2; Uncharted: The Lost Legacy; Zelda The Breath of the Wild; The Evil Within 2; Nier: Automata; Sonic Mania; Nioh and so on.

All great games, but even they didn't make the cut. It’s been that type of year folks. It’s been a really good year for gaming! So narrowing this list down to just ten was damn near impossible this year. But somehow, someway, I did just that. So without further ado. Here are my ten favourite games from 2017.

(And as an added bonus, be sure to check out the post script for a couple of extra goodies.)

10.) Crash Bandicoot: Nsane Trilogy

Crash Bandicoot was my childhood! And now it’s been remade from the ground up for the PS4. Oh boy was it glorious! Call it nostalgia if you must, but I had a blast revisiting these relics from my past. But more than that, I was genuinely surprised by how well they held up. Especially the first two games which are blisteringly hard games, but damn rewarding to master. Welcome back, Crash. You’ve been sorely missed.
9.) Fire Pro Wrestling World

Spike Chunsoft has finally returned to save us from the mediocrity that has plagued us for far too long with the WWE 2K franchise (or in other terms; “the Madden of Wrestling games.”) It’s been far too long since we’ve seen a Japanese wrestling game and I for one miss Japanese wrestling games. I say bring on more Japanese wrestling games (especially now with the current explosion of New Japan)

Oh wrestling fans, let us all rejoice the glorious return of a classic. The WWE 2K games may have the flair of next gen graphics, official licenses, and a marketing budget. They’ve got all the superstar names, the plethora of match types, and the sales figures. And yet they still feel strangely cold as games.

Fire Pro, on the other hand, is a lot like the ECW of wrestling games. It has none of the budget, but in typical Paul Heyman fashion, it “hides the negatives and accentuates the positives” with a brilliant and simple timing based grappling engine, fantastic 2D sprite art, endless customization possibilities, a rabidly dedicated fan community, and — most importantly — an understanding about the nature of pro wrestling, and just what makes it (and its fans) tick. Forget WWE 2K18, the real wrestling game of 2017 is right here!
8.) Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Wolfenstein II is the closest you’re getting to an Inglorious Basterds video game. If that doesn’t sell you then I don’t know what else will. Starring a multicultural group of irreverent, colorful characters on a globetrotting quest to ruin Hitler’s day, week and life in a fantastic revenge fantasy setting. Brutal, absurd, clever, insightful and touching, The New Colossus is a rollicking adventure that has reset the bar for what first person shooters can, and should, be.

7.) Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds

Here I sit on a deserted island prone on my stomach in the abandoned remains of an airplane. My heart is racing. All I have equipped is a pistol. I’m wearing nothing but a tank top and a pair of cargo pants. In the distance I hear the sounds of gunfire. In two minutes the danger zone will close inwards forcing me to move position just to stay alive. One wrong move equals death. No respawns. No second chances. Welcome to the world of Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds. A massive multiplayer survival game in the vein of Kinji Fukasaku’s epic Battle Royale. In some sessions, I’ve lasted no more than 5 minutes. In other sessions, I’ve made it to the last ten remaining. PUBG is one of the most intense games of multiplayer death match that I’ve ever played. More importantly, it’s the Battle Royale game that I’ve always wanted but didn’t think was possible. Now it exists and I couldn’t be happier for it.
6.) Horizon: Zero Dawn

Best known for their work on the Killzone franchise, Guerilla games finally stepped out of the first person shooter genre to deliver something rather special. Even though it's not without its issues, Horizon is an excellent title and a must have for all PS4 owners. It offers a refreshing open world environment, a compelling and mysterious story, a fantastic main character, and innovative gameplay. Not only is it one of the best action RPGs I've played this generation, it's also one of the best games I've played in a while. Horizon is a truly special experience, and it's one that even non-RPG lovers need to have.
5.) Resident Evil VII

At long last, Resident Evil has finally returned to its survival horror roots! I’ll be honest, I hated the more action focused Resident Evil 6. I felt the series was in deep decline and needed to do something to get it back on track.

Thankfully, Capcom seemed to agree and delivered a game that took Resident Evil straight back to it roots. Adopting a first person view to further heighten that claustrophobic feel, the game removes itself from the convoluted story line of previous entries and takes a little bit more of a Silent Hill 2 approach casting you in the role of a man searching for his lost lover. He is led to a rundown mansion in the woods via a cryptic message sent to him by his missing lover. This mansion is inhabited by the Baker family. A family of deranged hicks that could easily give the Sawyer family a good run for their money. What follows is one night of unspeakable horror.

Welcome back Resident Evil, it’s good to have you back in the Survival Horror genre.
4.) Yakuza 0

The latest entry in the long running Yakuza franchise is perhaps it’s greatest entry of all. Yakuza 0 takes us back to Japan’s bubble economy in the Eighties and re-introduces us to the legendary Dragon of Dojima, the one and only Kiryu Kazuma. Much to his chagrin, Kiryu finds himself in the center of another warfare as the many families in the Yakuza hierarchy do battle over a valuable and vacant plot of land in the heart of Kamurocho.

The core mechanics of the franchise remain largely unchanged. This is still a Beat ‘Em Up with RPG elements thrown in for good measure. But what the Yakuza team have managed to achieve in this game is a well thought out cohesion of mechanics. The vast majority of the substories are well written and entertaining to seek out. The act of exploring every last inch of Kamurocho has never been more rewarding.

This is a game that I gladly put 120 hours into and by the time I had cleared every side quest and built my businesses into a mini empire I still found myself wanting more. It also helps that the main story is perhaps the best this franchise has seen since Yakuza 2. It’s a very well written and engaging tale that will grab you by your collar and keep you invested the entire way through.

If you’ve never played a Yakuza game then Yakuza 0 is the perfect place to start.
3.) Cuphead

Largely inspired by cartoons of the 1930’s, the game tells the tale of Cuphead and his pal Mugman who unwittingly find themselves at the mercy of the Devil. The Devil issues them a deal; hunt down 19 foes in exchange for their freedom. A simple deal...yeah, right and pigs might fly while at it. What follows is a “kick you in the nuts” hard as nails NES type run and gun platformer featuring some of the most exciting (and frustrating) boss fights you are likely to see in a game this year.

The art style is unlike any other I’ve ever seen in a game before. Every frame of animation has been painstakingly (and lovingly) drawn by hand. It’s a true love note to 1930’s animation and is just a pure pleasure on the eyes. For as difficult as the game can get, it is at least fair in its difficulty. Learn from your mistakes and endure through to the end. Also, keep an ear out for that soundtrack. Oh boy is that soundtrack catchy!

2.) Super Mario Odyssey
(clears throat) BUY THIS GAME! That is all.

Okay fine, I guess I should write more than that. Super Mario Odyssey is a celebration of all things Mario. It’s a pure joy to play from beginning to end. The controls are so damn fluid (as is always the case for 3D Mario games.)   Exploring each world looking for moons is a complete and utter joy. The introduction of the sentient hat “Cappy” and being able to possess just about anything living and breathing in each world never grows old. It’s the greatest new mechanic to be introduced in a Mario game in a LONG time. Oh and I dare you to listen to the theme song “One Up Girl” and NOT have it stuck in your head for days on end.

Look, just buy this bloody game already! It’s Mario. I really don’t need to sell it to you. It sells itself to you. And I really don’t want to spoil much more. Go in as blind as you can. Just go out and buy it already and thank me later!
1.) Persona 5

Oh Persona 5. You took my heart! You indeed took my heart and refused to give it back! Set in modern day Tokyo, Persona 5 tells the story of a nameless-silent protagonist wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit. He is then forced to move to Tokyo on probation where he eventually befriends a group of kids from his new school. Each of whom are just as big a misfit as he is. Together, this group of ragtag misfits are granted the power to enter another reality where they moonlight as a band of thieves. Their mission is simple. To steal the hearts of the corrupt individuals that have wronged them and bring about a change of conscience in the real world.

That premise may sound a little out there, but in typical Persona fashion, it works without question. The Persona series has always done a fantastic job of blending reality and the supernatural world. Persona 5 is no exception. It’s a game that isn’t afraid to deal with some pretty heavy social issues such as suicide, abandonment, bullying, sexual abuse and it even manages to comment on current day political issues under the Abe administration.

The art style of the game is nothing short of seductive. This game oozes coolness with its slick menu design and it’s “anime brought to life” feel. The Acid Jazz stylings of the soundtrack has been playing on a permanent loop in my brain all year. The turn based combat is fast and responsive with enough depth to keep you well challenged for the 100+ hours it will take to see the campaign through. And the characters are some of the most endearing oddballs that I’ve had the pleasure spending time with this year.

Truth be told, I haven’t been this taken by an RPG since Final Fantasy VIII back when I was a kid. Well, okay...maybe Persona 4. But the point remains. Persona 5 is a fantastic game and is well deserving of its number one spot in this list.

Favorite Film of the Year: “Mother!”

To be honest, I can count the number of films I saw from 2017 on two hands. I really haven’t been going out and seeing much lately (which explains why this blog of mine has become quite abandoned.) But I did see Darren Aronofsky’s “Mother!” and by default, I would say it's probably the most interesting film I saw all year. But even then, I still don’t know if it’s “genius” or Aronofsky simply throwing everything at the wall in hope of something sticking. But I can’t deny that it’s a hell of a ride and the one film that really stuck with me the most from 2017 (of the few I saw.) Go in blind. Don’t read a damn thing about this movie. Just go in blind and experience the madness.

Most Disappointing Film of the Year: “The Snowman”

What the hell happened Tomas Alfredson!? Oh boy, where do we begin with this one? Tomas Alredson, the director of perhaps my favourite film of all time Let the Right One In, is a director that has shown himself to be capable of great things. Which makes the utter mess that is The Snowman even more disappointing. It’s a mess! A true and utter mess in every way.

The whole time I was sitting in the cinema thinking "something had to have gone completely wrong here. I know the pedigree of this director, I know what he can do...something desperately went wrong here." I think Mark Kermode probably put it best; "the film got away from them." There's no other way to put it. It's a film that went completely off the rails somewhere along the line and they were just desperately trying to salvage it.
A real mess. Just a real complete mess. But still, much like a train wreck, I couldn't take my eyes away from it :) So I'll give it that much.
Favorite Book of the Year: “The Colorless Tsukuru and his Years of Pilgrimage”

Technically not a book from 2017, but one that I did read in 2017 and one that really got to me. I was just recently introduced to the works of Murakami and of the few I've read, this might be my favorite. The story of an emotionally wounded 30 something man named Tsukuru who is forced to confront his past and find out why his friends abandoned him many years before. What follows is a melancholic tale of a man searching for inner harmony by being forced to confront the sordid past in search for answers. It truly is a wonderful read and I can’t recommend it enough.

Favorite Album of the Year: Mastodon - Emperor of Sand

I honestly can’t write about music. I don’t really have the know how to write about music so I will not subject to you my attempt to sound knowledgeable, but I will say this. I know what I like, and I really liked this album!

New Years Resolution: To further my own pursuit of gaining self confidence and finding happiness. So far it’s been working….

Happy trails and see you the next time I choose to write something on this blog of mine. Whenever that should be...



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