Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Nick's Top 10+1 Games of 2017

2017 has been a rough year, both personally and globally. That's not to say there weren't some highlights, but one thing's for sure: it was another wonderful year for games. Once again I managed to play a lot of this year's releases, which made this list quite difficult. I want to thank everyone for their continued support of 2v1 - we'd be nothing without you. And special thanks to all of our recurring guests that jump in at a moment's notice when our schedule's are messy. Let's get started.

11. Hollow Knight

Hollow Knight is a metroidvania (henceforth known as pathfinder) game about a lone bug-knight traversing a weird world of insects who have lost their souls as a once majestic kingdom falls to ruin around them. The art direction is wonderful, with a ton of variety in insect designs as well as beautifully detailed backgrounds and environments. I loved poking around looking for upgrades to help me survive a rather challenging game and like any good pathfinder, thorough exploration was rewarding. Bonus points to this game for building an atmosphere not unlike Dark Souls, where tidbits of world building are done with item descriptions and limited conversations with a large cast of characters. These characters help flesh out a very grim world that is enhanced by the somber soundtrack. Hollow Knight is an excellent experience that I couldn’t leave off of my list. Look out for it on Switch early next year and PS4 sometime down the road.

10. NieR: Automata 

I have issues with Automata’s bland open world and emphasis on repeated plays but the way Nier uses those repeated plays to expand upon and further the story is something I’ve never seen in a game before. The initial pass through 2B and 9S’s quest to save the earth from alien robots is brief and confusing, but the 2nd pass fills in the gaps while adding a nice twist to the hacknslash/bullet hell/shooter gameplay. Repeated plays of a game typically add flavor like new weapons or costumes but Nier goes the route of showing the player alternate perspectives, culminating in the 3rd pass where almost everything is revealed based on prior context. It’s brilliant. The gameplay is thrilling (who’d expect anything less from the Bayonetta devs) and warps expectations by suddenly shifting the camera to make an open world game a sidescroller, or a hacknslash a bullet hell shooter. Boss battles were varied, the RPG systems are worth learning, the characters are relatable and the soundtrack set the mood for one hell of an experience in 2017.

9. PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds 

Hearing footsteps outside a door has never been more terrifying than when experienced in Battlegrounds. Large scale single life battle royale modes may have been kicking around for awhile but something really clicked with PUBG. Diving from a plane armed only with a parachute to scrounge for discarded weapons and survive as long as possible still hasn’t gotten old. A big part of my love for PUBG was trading off attempts with Josh and cataloging our experience. Getting a kill, still, is thrilling because 1. Its hard 2. I never got good at it. After many hours with a shooter, that single aspect continues to feel rewarding. The genius of this game is there’s no investment, you’re not establishing a base and gathering resources for a long haul on a server. Having the matches last only so long by pushing the players to hills keeps the game moving and typically culminates in an intense shootout within a very small area. PUBG managed to release a fun new map this year as well, proving this wasn’t a one trick pony.

8. Cuphead 

One could easily put Cuphead high on a list of Good Games from Year 20XX due to the astounding art and animation alone. But luckily Cuphead manages to also be a really good video game. Cuphead is brutal, tight and varied. The difficulty beat me down many times but not once did I consider giving up. Instead I changed up my loadout of finger guns and charms and dove right back into the fray. Cuphead is dripping with style that translates to the gameplay itself by blending platforming with Contra-style side scrolling bullet hell and I think the difficulty was perfectly tuned. It’s an incredible achievement.

7. Horizon: Zero Dawn 

There’s one aspect of Horizon I appreciated the hell out of: pacing. What first sucked me into Horizon was it’s very weird setting of tribalistic cultures surviving by rubbing sticks together to make fire in a world of highly advanced robots. But it also pulled off a drip feed of world-building over the course of 40 hours. The way the player learns about what really happened with project Zero Dawn is done so well that I couldn't put the game down until I knew it all. I loved Horizon’s story and it had probably my favorite antagonist this year in Helis. The story is primarily a sci fi trope but with a twist that really worked for me. This alone outweighs my issues with the stilted dialogue, messy combat and semi-annoying traversal. The robot animals were exhilarating to fight and the world was absolutely stunning.

6. Night in the Woods 

NITW is a simple adventure game with essentially no puzzle solving that instead focuses on the challenge of handling everyday life and relationships. The story of college drop-out Mae returning to her small working class hometown hit really hard for me. I may not have dropped out of school but anytime I visit my family I witness a similar malaise. Local businesses continuously closing, a friend stuck in a rut, recognizing someone from high school no matter where you go - NITW is so accurate it's scary. I loved the art, the music and even the really weird story wrapped up in a believable setting. The characters are relatable and it even holds minor gameplay twists that were always a treat. NITW is fantastic.

5. Metroid: Samus Returns 

Even though I recently played Metroid 2 for the first time to completion and also enjoyed the excellent AM2R last year, I still couldn't wait to get my hands on a remake of Return of Samus blessed by Nintendo. Mercury Steam did a wonderful job of turning Metroid to 2.5D and refreshing an old title with the new melee/counter gameplay. I couldn’t put this game down. Fighting the mature forms of metroids was thrilling and the animations with Samus literally tackling them was fucking awesome. I still wish this game had been pivoted for the Switch but even the 3D on the 3DS was nice. It gave depth to this previously flat world that I really appreciated. Most importantly this showed that Nintendo really hasn’t forgotten about the series and I can’t wait to hear more about Metroid Prime 4.

4. Nioh 

Did you know I love Dark Souls? Nioh is the exact kind of riff on Souls gameplay I want to see. The feudal Japan setting is a treat and provides a weirdly coherent reason for weapons and demons to litter the environment. Nioh’s brand of souls combat takes the animation dependent attacks and spices it up with high, mid and low stances that changes the moveset for each weapon. The player can switch between these (and weapons) on the fly and chain together huge attacks similar to old school hacknslash games. Paired with the difficulty and corpse runs of Souls, Nioh is a really rewarding game. The constant drip feed of equipment is a little much for my taste since it requires extensive inventory management, but I appreciated the depth of abilities/stats for everything. The levels and enemies were a little repetitive but that didn’t stop me from sinking almost 100 hours in the game - and I’m not done! This game is just damn cool and is packed with plenty of style one would expect from Team Ninja. Nioh is a must play for Souls fans and a sign that there’s plenty of room for innovation within soulslikes. 

3. Super Mario Odyssey 

Surprise, a 3d Mario game is amazing. It should go without saying that a Mario game once again set the standard for the (dead/dying?) 3d platformer genre. Guiding Mario around the small but dense kingdoms feels great and the capture mechanic of stealing enemy souls with Mario’s hat is a delight. The way capturing enemies adds to Mario’s platforming arsenal was just fun and added more options for exploring the kingdoms. It’s easy to look at Odyssey as a simple collectathon for moons, and it is, but because that simple act of exploring is so fun, it doesn’t matter. The kingdom’s are varied and beautiful, you can change Mario’s outfit and the player is rewarded for continued play after the ‘story’ is over with challenging platforming that I adored. I could have used a teensy bit more challenge overall but that’s a small gripe in an incredible experience. I was smiling the whole game (except for that last challenge holy fuck).

2. Fighting Games 

The swath of fighting games I’ve played this year is hard to ignore. Since this summer, I’ve fallen head over heels for a genre that I assumed held nothing for me - all I needed was a consistent friend with which to compete against and chat about mechanics, almost daily. The variety in styles goes so much deeper than I ever imagined. I had always loved Mortal Kombat for it’s weird universe but this was the first time I stopped and appreciated its unique combat which eventually led me to the fantastic Injustice 2 (actually released this year!). I put time into a Tekken for the first time in my life and realized “oh this is why I liked Soul Calibur back in the day.” A previously impenetrable style of fighter, anime, turned out to possibly be one of my all time favorites with Guilty Gear Xrd. Street Fighter V is wonderful and I don’t understand why everyone hates it (and I don’t care).  Marvel vs Capcom is ugly but bonkers. I even attended my first gaming event for the super niche fighting game community in 2017. This genre suddenly means a lot to me and I couldn't be happier.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 

Getting lost in Hyrule was far and away my favorite pastime this year. After re-visiting Twilight Princess on Wii U and getting bored, I started to think maybe Zelda was done for me. The series needed to be redefined and the direction of a true open world + pieces of the survival game genre blended into something unexpectedly brilliant. Breath of the Wild was an adventure all my own. I spent more than 40 hours just wandering, gathering equipment, solving shrines and taking in the gorgeous landscape before I even considered tackling the main quest. If I had the notion, I could have went straight to the final boss battle immediately.

Breath of the Wild is another sign of Nintendo evolving - incorporating modern open world RPG designs while giving it that special Nintendo twist of simple but enticing. BOTW can be boiled down to a single word: freedom. Freedom to carve my own path and eschew the main quest. Freedom to solve shrines and combat however I saw fit with a multitude of weapon types, arrows and powers. Whenever anything happened as a result of the multiple systems at work instead of by my own hand, I cheered. There were plenty of times where I solved a shrine unsure of whether it was the ‘correct’ way or if I had found a way to take advantage of the compounding physics systems. BOTW was my favorite experience this year and hopefully only the first step for a new Nintendo.

Thanks for reading and again thanks so much for the continued support from our listeners! Here's to 2018!


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