2017 Games in Review

After I wrote last year about every single game I played in 2016, I feel it’s time again to delve deep into my mind and recall every game I played in 2017. Between university work and social commitments, it’s sometimes difficult to find time for gaming. But with the launch of the Nintendo Switch, I’ve been able to sandwich in about half an hour extra a day on the bus.

Fair warning: my mini-reviews might contain spoilers for each game, so if you’ve not played any of these then close your eyes while reading.

Nintendo Switch

Nintendo is back, as so many news sites and bloggers have proclaimed! You know, because they fell off the Earth’s surface the moment the Wii U was announced. The Switch, and its first-year lineup, choosing not to compete with its rivals in terms of raw power, and instead adopting a Blue Ocean strategy with a home console you can chuck in your bag and take with you anywhere. As someone who commutes onto campus every day on a bus, I’ve been milking the portable aspect of my Switch when I’d otherwise be staring out the window. It’s like the system was tailor-made for people like me! The concept of splitting a pair of Joy-cons works exceptionally well for a university Nintendo Society, and hell, even cheesy launch game 1-2-Switch is a decent ice-breaker for newcomers.

Nintendo also made the intelligent decision to stagger their big hitters throughout the year rather than saturate the launch and holiday periods, as is common for platform holders. They knew that Breath of the Wild would grab headlines, and that Super Mario Odyssey would fuel the Christmas period – why cannibalise yourself and release more than that? It remains to be seen if the momentum will continue, but with a handful of releases primed for next year and main-series Pokemon and Metroid confirmed for Switch, it’s unsurprising that it’s on track to outsell the Wii U’s entire lifespan in just one year.

That’s 2017’s major hardware release – now let’s talk about the games. I’ll be saving my favourite game of the year for its own blog post (subtle hint: it’s Zelda). These are in approximate chronological order.

Fast RMX (Nintendo Switch)

With Breath of the Wild being the largest title at launch and the choice being otherwise limited (I ain’t buying Super Bomberman R for £50), I picked this up to see how the diddy new Joy-con controllers fare in a multiplayer environment, alongside Snipperclips. It offers a rip-roaring, fluid racing experience in F-Zero’s vein, with a buttery smooth framerate. Some of the tracks feel kind of similar to others, but there’s also enough variety here to keep you interested for a while. It doesn’t have the depth and “family-friendly” factor of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but it’s still a solid racer.

Verdict: Fast.

fast_rmx_4player

Snipperclips (Nintendo Switch)

I was surprised to learn that this game wasn’t developed in-house at Nintendo; it was built by London-based indie studio SFB Games and merely published by the Big N. There’s the sort of polish and charm you might expect from a first-party Ninty game – and it’s clear that Nintendo gave its support and guidance to this title.

snipperclipsImage courtesy of Nintendo.

The core concept is simple: each character can ‘snip’ shapes out of the other characters to form buckets, hooks and even egg nests to solve a range of puzzles. Sure, it won’t take you long to see everything it has to offer, but this bundle is well worth the asking price as an entry-level game that near enough anyone can enjoy and it’s a nice example of how split Joy-cons can be used effectively. Even one of my non-gamer friends bugged me to try it out!

Verdict: Charming.

1-2-Switch (Nintendo Switch)

I didn’t purchase this game due to the absurd price tag, and I feel it may have worked better as a pack-in title (I know I’m not alone in this regard), but I appreciate its value as an ice-breaker game and something that acts as a tech demo for the features of the Joy-con controllers.

1_2_switchImage courtesy of Nintendo. I wouldn’t sully my screenshots folder with this!

It’s the sort of game you’d pick up for a few quid in a bargain bin and bring it to a party, play one or twice with a large group of friends, then probably leave on a shelf as a dust magnet. It’s shallow as shallow gets, but it’s pretty good at doing what it set out to do. Just make sure you don’t spend more than about five pounds on it.

Verdict: Milking your wallet.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Nintendo Switch)

I owned and loved Mario Kart 8. Right up until launch, I was on the fence about buying this one, but the improved battle mode (read: it now has a battle mode) and character additions were enough to sway me. Plus, it’s Mario Kart 8 – on the go! It still looks exceedingly pretty, and seeing as it’s out so early on in the console’s lifespan, I’m holding out hope that Mario Kart 9 could be a Switch game.

mk8d_electrodome

The battle modes are varied and alone warrant the upgrade from Mario Kart 8 if you have people to play with (I always find these games are best with local multiplayer). This too is a great icebreaker title for groups of people. I still find it rather impressive to compare handheld MK8D to Mario Kart 7 to see how far handheld gaming has come since the Nintendo 3DS.

Verdict: The best Mario Kart game yet.

Magikarp Jump (Android)

This is allegedly a video game. This mobile tribute to Pokémon’s weakest character was initially amusing – watching my Magikarp flop up meters into the air before falling back to Earth and smashing a hole in the ground made me laugh the first time I saw it. But it soon devolves into mindlessly dragging your thumb around the screen to sweep up berries and stressfully hammering your phone to skip the same menus and training animations you’ve seen a hundred times already. It gets so frustrating to advance anywhere and has all the trappings of your typical mobile game pay-to-win system. On the plus side, if you get tired of your weakling fish, it can get eaten by a Pidgeotto or blown up by a Voltorb. It’s cute, but it’s also a classic trashy mobile game.

Verdict: Totally pathetic, unreliable.

This one doesn’t even deserve a screenshot. It’s Magikarp. You know what Magikarp looks like.

Persona 5 (PS4)

I didn’t play this one, but I watched a playthrough and loved it. The game is so good, even the user interface has personality in abundance. It tells a solid story about a bunch of kids who are sick of corrupt adults getting away with, well, anything. You use an app on your phone (because 2017) and hunt down these people’s ‘shadows’ in an alternative sub-world that coexists with ours. Beating the living snot out of a shadow causes the real-world equivalent to have a ‘change of heart’ and repent all their terrible deeds. It’s an uplifting reminder that we all have the power inside us to bring about societal change, even when things look bleak.

persona_5Image courtesy of Atlus.

However, I had a couple of gripes. First of all, the plot reeeeeeally drags on this time around – I feel it had said all it had to say well before the closing credits, and beyond that were a couple of pointless plot twists and revelations that ultimately didn’t really matter. Second, the game hints at, but never truly explores, the idea that mob justice isn’t the answer and that the Phantom Thieves –  the protagonists – could be considered no better than the awful people they’re punishing. After all, while their intentions are noble, they often act out of a lust for more popularity. I feel the cast sweeps aside the notion that they’d be seen as criminals a bit too quickly, and I’d have liked for the idea to be explored further.

Despite all that, it’s a solid RPG overall. Last Surprise is the catchiest battle theme on Earth and as I mentioned, the battle interfaces have style and substance in spades.

Verdict: Stylish.

Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition (Nintendo Switch)

I’m fairly convinced by now that more people on the globe have access to a copy of Minecraft than clean water. So, it was inevitable that a Switch version would be coming, and it holds its own against the other console versions, albeit with smaller world sizes and draw distances. There’s not much else to add to the conversation about Minecraft that’s not already been said, but I did spend 250 hours over Summer playing a game I’d already played to death so it must be worth a look! It’s hands-down the best portable version of the game and the Better Together update, which adds cross-play between the Xbox and PC versions, is slated to come to Switch… at some point.

Verdict: The best portable Minecraft.

minecraft_mansionMy modest home.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (Nintendo 3DS)

I bought this game in 2014 and, for whatever reason, flung it on my shelf straight away and never actually got round to playing it. Before summer rolled round, I made a resolve: I’d get through the unplayed 3DS (and DS) games I still had lying around in my collection. It’s a goal I did actually manage to fulfil! I’ve never played A Link to the Past (I know, I’m going straight to hell for that), but I gotta say – I was surprised by how much I loved this one. It feels very much like a retro throwback (because it is one), but it’s so expertly crafted that it feels like a modern title.

lbw_maiamaiSqueak! Squeak! I can hear them all now.

The game is extremely easy (I never saw the game over screen once), although increased difficulty doesn’t really do anything for me so I’m pretty neutral about that. Link’s signature new mechanic of superimposing himself on a wall results in inventive puzzles spanning Hyrule and Lorule, and I felt compelled to collect every last collectable for the first time in a Zelda game (no, I’m never getting BotW‘s 900 Koroks). I can’t pinpoint exactly why I found it so addictive to explore the overworld, but it’s certainly one of my favourite 3DS games. It was an absolute joy to play. Plus, the Maiamai are cute and I want a hundred of them.

Verdict: Squeak.

Splatoon 2 (Nintendo Switch)

When it was first announced, and when the Global Testfire was launched, I was worried that this might be far too similar to the originals. And yes, this sequel isn’t exactly a departure from the first Splatoon, but I think it’s fine to play it safe when the franchise is so young. Taking the same approach as Splatoon did with regards to updates – having a constant schedule of free content – is very welcome. Splatoon 2 continues to add new weapon classes, maps and even a new mode recently, and if it continues at this speed then by the time the 16th Splatfest rolls round, it’ll feel more like a sequel, albeit with a core experience that’s mostly unchanged from the first game. Essentially, the format isn’t broken or tired yet and the Switch is capturing audiences that the Wii U couldn’t. Why change things too much?

Verdict: Woomy.

splatoon_2_game3I had no screenshots of team-wipes to put here, unfortunately.

Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright (Nintendo 3DS)

I’ve only played two Fire Emblem games – this one and The Sacred Stones, courtesy of the 3DS Ambassador Program – and I very much enjoy the core gameplay of the series. However, as an entry that lives and dies with the quality of the story (after all, this game is split into three games pretty exclusively to tell the same story from three angles), I was bitterly disappointed (warning: there are spoilers coming up). It starts off strong, and barring a couple instances of the party going to off-the-beat locations because reasons, I felt it was building itself up to be a memorable and enjoyable story. Until Lilith died. A character that had not been with the main party since an early chapter, with no indication she’d be anything but an NPC inhabiting your home castle, suddenly shows up to do the whole “character jumps in front of would-be fatal blow to the main protagonist and sacrifices self” thing.

I bloody hate it when stories kill off characters for the sake of killing characters, especially if it’s just for the shock/tearjerker factor, but this one was pretty unforgivable as Lilith wasn’t even travelling with the party, she literally flies out of nowhere. How, then, do you think I felt when the game did the same thing later with Elise? Granted, she’d at least been travelling with the party, but there’s no reason for her death either and I just don’t buy it that Xander would accidentally strike her instead of the main character. C’mon guys, you already used up your deus ex machina quota.

Also, Chapter 21 can go die in a fire (it’s ironic, because it’s a lava level). You have to activate statues with your main character to clear a path, but picking the wrong side floods the arena with lava, slowing you down and spawning extra enemies. On top of that, you can’t clear the path for a few turns. There are three of these statues, and I got caught on all three of them, as it wasn’t obvious to me which side I had to pick (looking it up afterwards, I figured out it was the side of the statue holding an orb, but this wasn’t communicated properly). All taken into account, it’s undoubtedly the worst level of a strategy game I’ve ever played and it almost made me stop playing the game entirely.

birthright
You don’t say? I thought it was the field of daisies right over there.

Needless to say, I won’t be picking up the other two editions of this game. I wouldn’t play through that fucking lava chapter again if you paid me. The final fight with the big bad guy and the ending (well, 33% of it) redeemed the game slightly, but ultimately, the bad parts are too plentiful for me to really recommend it.

Verdict: Disappointing.

Pokémon White Version 2 (Nintendo DS)

When I played through Pokémon White back in 2011, it felt fresh, despite retaining practically all of the hallmarks of the series. It was like someone had sprayed the series with Febreze for the first time since the early 2000’s. I think it was the new batch of Pokémon and the reticence in using older generations of Pokémon that solidified it for me; for the first time, I didn’t encounter a gen 1 wild Pokémon every ten steps. Furthermore, it had a plot I genuinely felt engrossed in.

pkmn_white_2

Pokémon White 2, then, is a less fresh Pokémon White with a few more bells and whistles. That’s certainly not a bad thing, and it helped that I didn’t jump into this right after playing the first. Playing this after the slicker 3DS entries was somewhat strange, but not as jarring as I expected. I do wish I’d played this at launch though; between this and Pokémon Sun last year, I’m a bit burnt out on the series, so I probably won’t get round to Pokémon Ultra Sun or Ultra Moon for a while. I’m ecstatic that they’re bringing the series to Nintendo Switch, though.

Verdict: Just more Pokémon White.

Sonic Mania (Nintendo Switch)

I’m not even a fan of 2D Sonic games and I don’t know why I bought this. I played it for a bit and encountered a soft-lock glitch at the end of an inventive boss fight I loved, based on Dr Eggman’s Mean Bean Machine, because of course they stuck Puyo Puyo in this 2D Sonic game. Then, I reached an autoscrolling boss fight, got a bit mad with the inexplicable inertia on Sonic’s jump movement during that section, and put the game down. It’s a well-built game and I don’t wanna rag on it, as I can tell a lot of love and effort went into it, but it’s probably just not for me. At least I didn’t buy Sonic Forces instead.

Verdict: Faster than Fast RMX.

sonic_mania_softlockLook! A soft-lock! In a Sonic game! How surprising.

Stardew Valley (Nintendo Switch)

Life sims are the most dangerous kind of game. The number of real-world days I’ve wasted on games like Animal Crossing is unreal, so buying this was like signing up for a home delivery cocaine subscription service. It’s a good job that Stardew Valley is the most homely gaming cocaine on the planet. I love the characters and locations, and while the days initially felt short, I’ve learned to take things slow and complete tasks at my own pace. Farming is addictive, completing Community Centre bundles feels infinitely rewarding and forming bonds with townsfolk fuels their character progression in the form of special cutscenes.

stardew_valley_sebby

Also, I married the shy, cute guy and made him feel loved in a town where he felt invisible. Aww, this game is adorable.

Verdict: Homely.

Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo Switch)

A system that launches with a game that gets 97 on Metacritic doesn’t usually need the help of other super-heavyweight titles to sustain momentum, just a few solid titles to tide it over into the next year. Nintendo disagreed and decided to release another game with a Metacritic score of 97 to round off the year. It’s not often that two games of that calibre come out in a single year, let alone two from the same developer. And Super Mario Odyssey deserves all the praise it gets.

smo_new_donk

After collecting all the Power Moons that matter, and getting some pretty stellar scores on some of the minigames (I’m modest, I swear), I’m still taken aback at how well-polished this game is. The Cappy captures are varied and immensely fun and moving Mario around the environments has never been more slick. Only Nintendo could pack so many gameplay features around a single mechanic – throwing Cappy – and only a Mario game could relentlessly throw idea after idea after idea at the player without feeling completely overwhelming.

smo_seaside

As anyone will tell you, New Donk City is the pinnacle of the experience. It’s a three-dimensional labyrinth of movement opportunities. Getting from A to B in this level gives you a billion different options, and, barring your first arrival in the city, the streets are completely free of enemies. It’s just a playground for you to test out Mario’s stunning new abilities by jumping between pretty much any pair of buildings.

I feel as if some Power Moons are so trivial that the diminish the accomplishment of obtaining the harder ones. If I had designed them, I’d have had two classes of moons – something like Mini Moons which litter the world, and the full-fat Power Moons for your harder challenges, especially some of the post-credits challenges.

mario_odyssey_pokio

I’m praying that Nintendo has Super Mario Odyssey 2 in development as we speak; while I’d love some kingdom DLC for Odyssey, I don’t think that cuts it for me. I’m gonna have to be a greedy bastard and demand that Nintendo makes me a no-holds-barred, premium, full-fat videogame steak with Mario and Cappy’s beaming faces on the cartridge. If I have to become a Nintendo shareholder and fly myself out to Kyoto for every shareholder meeting to force them into making it just to shut me up, then so be it.

Also, if you get more than 471 on the New Donk City skipping rope challenge, I’ll duel you on the top of New Donk City Hall at sundown.

Verdict: Super Star.

Two-week Competitions: ‘Spooky’ and ‘Growth’

That’s right, today’s going to be a special two-game bonanza! Well, really it’ll just be one game and a pretty cool tech demo, but it’s generous nonetheless. Both the following games were made for two-week competitions for Warwick Game Design society, and made by the same two guys that made this.

Lavender Town, theme: Spooky

As the name suggests, it’s based on Lavender Town from the original Pokemon Red and Blue. The general atmosphere of the town is such a creepy experience, how could we not make a game based on the creepypastas spawned by the games? Obviously we wouldn’t completely rip off a completely-true, legit story such as this, so we did our own spin on it.

town-01

#nostalgia

It’s a relatively short game (it’ll probably take you no more than 5 minutes), but it took a lot of work to pull off. We used a lot of resources for this one, such as a lovely glitch shader for sprites in Unity, plus of course all of the original music and sprites (which, because we’re idiots, we decided to copy out entirely by hand. At least we’re better at pixel art now).

town-03

The really cool glitch shader, mid-glitch.

If you’d like to give it a go, then you’ll find it in various places – either on IndieDB, on my Dropbox, or on the Warwick Game Design website, where you can also see everyone else’s entries.

Fractal Mountain Generator, theme: Growth

This game doesn’t really have much game in it at all, but it is pretty cool – it’s a random generator that subdivides a mesh over a number of iterations, and moves around the vertices a little to produce a fractal mountain. In an attempt to put some actual game inside it, there’s a red cube that spawns in a random place and drops down somewhere on the mountain, and you have to find it.

fract-01

Only the highest quality textures.

There really isn’t much to do, except appreciate the fact that this game might not have existed, had we not found all the hidden bugs in time. Seriously, Tom and I probably crashed Unity more times for this project that we have for everything before this combined. If you want to give it a go, you can go grab it from my Dropbox.

fract-02Actual games are overrated; tech demos are where it’s at.

I’m also working on the next project by myself (although I’ll help Tom when he gets an idea, because I’m obviously such a nice person). The theme is Micro, so my idea is a little guy called Sam who inhabits a computer, and has the ability to change size and gravity to navigate through to the end of a few levels. Here’s a teaser image:

sam-01

*Hop* *Bounce* *Boing*

Hopefully this time it won’t take me forever to get around to posting about the game!

-Daniel

Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire: What I Want to See

You’ve probably heard by now that a new pair of Pokémon games are headed for the Nintendo 3DS family of systems. Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are the long-desired Ruby and Sapphire remakes, and if you missed the announcement, here it is.

What do we know so far?

Currently, we know that it’s a ‘full remake’ of Ruby and Sapphire, as stated by Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. Plus, as the trailer states, we’ll get to see a “dramatic new world”, which implies there will be new content. And from the box art, the games can feature what I can only assume are new forms of Groudon and Kyogre. Plus, we know the games will launch worldwide in November this year, which is only 6 months away.

pokemon-oras-box

Speculation Time!

Firstly, since it’s been stated these are definitely remakes, these games will take place in Hoenn. However, the “dramatic new world” mentioned suggests otherwise. Most likely, there will be a new area to explore in addition to Hoenn as we know it, which may or may not be post-game content. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that this happened, as LeafGreen and FireRed included the Sevii Islands as part of the storyline. The two legendaries on the box art look stunning, and appear to be new forms of the respective Pokémon. These may be Mega Evolutions, or perhaps a different form – I wouldn’t put it past Game Freak to introduce Alpha Pokémon or something ridiculous like that.

What I want to see

Full 3D battle scenes and polygonal Pokémon models, first introduced in Pokémon X and Y, are probably going to be in these new games, which I’d much prefer to sprite-based combat, which was the standard back in the originals. Also, the Battle Frontier from Pokémon Emerald was much better than Ruby and Sapphire’s Battle Tower, so it’ be fantastic if it were included in the remakes. The new games will almost certainly have similar online capabilities as X and Y, but it’d be cool for some other features introduced in Ruby and Sapphire, such as Pokémon contests, berry blending, secret bases and the Battle Tower (or Frontier), benefit from these increased connectivity features. I’d like to see a lot of post-game content in these games, as some Pokémon games lack in this department. With E3 approaching soon, it’s inevitable that we’ll find out more concrete info regarding the new games, but for now it’s fun to play the guessing game. If you have any ideas for what you’d like to see in Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, leave a comment below.

Retro Corner: Pokemon Emerald (GBA, 2005)

Pokemon. One of the biggest gaming franchises of all time. You would have trouble finding people who haven’t heard of it, or its lovable creatures, as there is a huge merchandising industry built on the back of this videogame series, as well as the equally big trading card franchise. This classic Nintendo series came around, as the legend goes, because creator Satoshi Tajiri was a huge fan of collecting bugs as a child, and when he saw the Game Boy link cable for the first time, he imagined bugs crawling from one handheld to the other, prompting him and artist Ken Sugimori to conceive arguably the greatest JRPG of all time, starting with Pokemon Red and Green in Japan (Green was named Blue everywhere else). Now enough of the background, time to talk about one of the games in the series, Pokemon Emerald. pkmn_emerald_2

This game is the third in a trilogy that had Ruby and Sapphire preceding it, together forming the third generation of Pokemon. It was the third best-selling title in the Gameboy Advance’s lifespan, beaten only by Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire in first and Pokemon LeafGreen/FireRed in second (seems Pokemon is a big deal…).  What I loved about the third generation is the debut of double battles. These battles had a more strategic edge to them, requiring the player to choose which moves to use with deeper thought, for example using moves which attack both opponents as opposed to just one. This battle system was used a large number of times throughout the game, which is quite different to the triple battles of Pokemon Black/White (DS, 2010) which I feel where neglected hugely, appearing a couple of times only. pkmn_emerald_1

The storyline of the game is a little similar to other games in the series (evil team tries using legendary Pokemon to take over world, hero raises a team of Pokemon to stop them, while collecting Pokemon League badges and battling their rival along the way, beats evil team and subsequently the Pokemon League, the end), but it fits the game well. The game is well presented, and the graphical quality of the environments and the battles is superb, squeezing all it can from the GBA. The Pokemon introduced in Generation 3 include some of my favourite designs, such as Blaziken, Flygon (see above screenshot), Salamence and Rayquaza (the cover star of the game). blaziken

Blaziken- he’s a fire chicken. Your argument is invalid.

The multiplayer features of this game are also pretty darn cool; there’s no better way to test your skills as a Trainer than challenging a friend to a link battle, and you can’t legitimately fill the Pokedex without trading with a friend, showing Game Freak’s determination to get players to interact with one another.

The battle scene in this game and the other games of generation 3 are in full colour, which is hugely improved upon the games of the previous two generations which only had the Pokemon themselves in colour (Gold, Silver, Crystal, Yellow to an extent) or the entire game in black and white (Red, Blue). Admittedly, there’s not much of an addition, a basic platform for each Pokemon to stand on and a background made of coloured lines, but it is better than the older battle scenes. The attack animations are also improved from before, and the music is also of very high quality, adding to the largely happy atmosphere of the game.pkmn_emerald_5

The reason to buy this game over the previous two in the generation is firstly the slightly enhanced storyline (the power struggle between Team Aqua and Team Magma makes slightly more sense here), and the fact Rayquaza is the cover star- he is an amazing species to have in your team, and besides, he looks awesome! The best post-game content in the game is the Battle Frontier, a facility that allows you to pit your Pokemon against different challenges with a variety of rules to test your abilities. It is an expansion of the Battle Tower of Ruby and Sapphire, which was rather limited in its challenges. Rayquaza

Rayquaza- I don’t really know what he is, but he looks awesome anyway.

If you haven’t played this before, it is worthwhile picking it up, perhaps you can find it cheap on eBay or from a retailer. Have fun playing 🙂

-Daniel

An introduction

Hey people, this blog will be full of game reviews and the progress I am making on my own game. Since I play so many video games, I decided to make my own with all the ideas I’ve accumulated, so I’ve started learning the Java programming language. I will be showing my progress here, and also maybe help you if it’s possible (I’m only starting out with Java, but I’m hoping to get better, so maybe in the future I will have my own YouTube series showing people how to make simple games).

The games I play include the likes of Minecraft (awesome game by Mojang, if you haven’t played it, why not? Get it now), Mario, Pokemon and generally stuff by Nintendo (the only current-gen console I own is a 3DS, and it’s not a real console), but like everyone else, I have played games like Call of Duty and Halo. So if I find any games worthy of review, I’ll review them. So stick around and have fun reading!

-Daniel