Game of the Year 2017

What is 2017’s best game?

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It’s been a bit quiet at pennilessdads as real-job commitments have dominated October and November. Hopefully I’ll be a bit more active in December – starting with my picks for game of the year 2017. This article will be updated every day this week until number one is revealed.

5. Sonic Mania

The success of this game can be quantified by two pieces of evidence:

I) how poor Sonic Forces is in comparison

II) how long it has been in the Switch eshop charts

Sonic Mania is all things: nostalgia-evoking; stylish and modern yet retro at the same time. The cutscene at the opening positions the game in exactly the right place – the continuation of Sonic and Knuckles. It is also the genesis of one of the best Sonic fan theories ever regarding a certain upside down boss fight!

4. Horizon: Zero Dawn

A truly amazing game which firmly holds the title of ‘best looking game’ of this generation. The DNA of Horizon can easily be sourced from the likes of Tomb Raider, Phantom Pain and even Skyrim – plus many more. What it does exceedingly well is mix the mechanics it iterates on into a beautiful odyssey for protagonist Aloy to embark on. Everything about this game screams AAA. Even on my launch PS4 and 1080p tv the game is head and shoulders above any other current-gen game visually.

3. Destiny 2

After sinking hundreds of hours into the original, Destiny 2’s challenge was making millions of lapsed guardians care again. Destiny 2 has an epic campaign, clear, uncomplicated progression and great – great – multiplayer. The game is polished and is the definitive video game fps. Nothing feels as slick as Destiny and – despite a few minor controversies – everything it does is with the type of confident swagger Bungie can deservedly show.

2. Super Mario Odyssey

This makes number one obvious! Super Mario Odyssey has been a rollercoaster for me. It started with a gradual climb, followed by a dip before a thrilling second-half campaign kicked off with New Donk City. SMO, which scales to all abilities, is another game perfect for the Switch. The sense of wonder and “I bet there’s something cool around that corner” feeling oozes from every corner of this game. The cherry on the cake is the endgame grind which is perfect for dipping back into – comfort food – after a hard day in the Real World Kingdom.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

When you start Ocarina of Time on N64, a subdued background cutscene plays before going to the traditional Zelda file select screen. Wind Waker and Twilight Princess unspectacularly imitate this and by Skyward Sword the opening formula to Zelda felt tired. Breath of the Wild does something bold, confident and new: a blank, white screen – quiet yet striking – then it simply says in crisp black letters ‘The Legend of Zelda’. You quickly embark on Link’s most epic of adventures – there’s no knight school politics or fishing tutorials this time. Just like the introductory screen, everything this game does can be described as bold, confident and new. There’s plenty of nostalgia for those who want to seek it but what this game does so well is evoke the spirit of adventure in the player. It’s Frodo leaving the Shire where a daunting, unknown world awaits. BotW’s stylised graphics, true open world progression and creative use of physics enhance it above most games. Although stunning, the underpowered Wii U and Switch game doesn’t quite pop and impress visually as much as Aloy’s amazing PS4 masterpiece. However, what sets BotW apart from all other games this year, this generation and all time is the feeling created by it. The weekend this game came out was 48 hours lost in the ruins of Hyrule’s wilds. Away from playing the game, I dreamed of climbing those mountains and what wonders lay ahead. God help the next Zelda game as it has a lot to live up to. For me the new benchmark has been set; it’s a great time to be playing video games!

Mario dlc? Yes-ee?

What next for Mario?

Super Mario Odyssey Spoilers ahead!!!!

After THAT ending, can we expect dlc/expansions to Nintendo’s odyssey? Going in, I knew the endgame was blowing people away but my initial thought was ‘they’ve remade Mario 64 in-game!!!!’ which isn’t quite an accurate description of what happened. The Mushroom Kingdom is an amazing part of Odyssey but not quite as mind blowing as I hoped. 

Demand is high for a full HD Mario 64 – as well as Sunshine and the Galaxy twins. However, what if these games were part of Odyssey’s expansions? Instead of completely remaking the games, choose the best bits – like the throwback galaxy in Galaxy 2. Three expansion packs: 64, Sunshine and the Galaxies combined. Perhaps 3D Land and 3D World can be involved too. Given the size of these it would come with a £10-£20 price tag per pack but may be better received than HD remakes and/or Virtual Console releases. 

The capacity for Mario 64 is already in the game if you’ve seen the credits roll. In the Seaside Kingdom there’s a blatant FLUDD mechanic – meaning the code is in there – which would mean simply building the assets. Bosses aside, most of Sunshine could be constructed from Odyssey’s existing building blocks. Finally, combining the two Galaxy games into one super expansion would be a similar job. 

Despite the clamour for these games, full retail, HD remakes would pale in comparison to Odyssey; playing them could be a chore not a joy. If you can’t beat them join them. Odyssey would be the perfect playground for its predecessors to descend upon. 

Mario Motion Oddity

Given the unique selling point of the Switch – universally useable in home console, tabletop or handheld modes – a strange phenomenon has hit Super Mario Odyssey. Quite simply, certain control modes limit Marino’s move-set. The game, which released to critical acclaim, is amazing but this strange design choice has got the internet in a perpetual question block.

Within the first couple of hours, you are introduced to Mario’s move-set; anyone who has played Marios 64 or Galaxy will feel right at home. Mario’s new hat techniques are where the controls divert into strange-town. A tap of ‘y’ or a flick of the right Joy-con sends your hat in the direction you are pointing – so far, no problems. If you are in separate Joy-con mode, motion control is there if you want it; for all other Switch configurations the ‘y’ button will suffice. A flick of the Joy-con will spin Mario’s hat around him (a la Link’s spin attack) and if not in separate Joy-con mode you simply…erm…there’s no alternate way of actioning this motion! 

For pennilessdads (and mums) this presents a difficult problem: if you want to play the game with Mario’s full move-set, parent-friendly handheld mode isn’t really an option. The spin mechanic isn’t as essential as say jumping or sliding but it is a rare case of Nintendo dropping the ball in this game. 

If nothing else, it is another example of the Switch’s quality motion controls. That HD remaster of Skyward Sword might be possible still! 

Edit: there are ways sans split Joycon to pull off spin throw and other advanced motion moves. However, compared to the aforementioned, similar moves in Breath of the Wild, these are not as consistent in execution. Git gud you say? Perhaps, but given the advantage the motion moves give you, there should be a fairer playing field than this mefinks. 

Stardew Valley Review

Zip-a-dee-dew-dah!

Version reviewed: Switch

How much you enjoy this game will be dependent on where you sit on the gaming/farming spectrum; more on this later but interpret as you will for now. Stardew Valley is an established indie-darling which has had great success on other platforms. Now, it reaches the golden-paved streets of the Switch eshop. It has held the number one spot on the UK download chart for over a week so let’s see what all the fuss is about.

Without spoiling anything, the premise is you inherit a derelict, forgotten farm in Stardew Valley. For perhaps the most compelling of reasons – which many pennilessdads will relate to – you begin a new life living off the land. The game adopts a faux-16 bit top-down style which charms from the outset. As the game progresses, more farming options open up to you. From humble beginnings sowing parsnips, the game quickly opens up crafting elements; the ability to raise livestock as well as join in with the village-greenesque lives of its residents. Gameplay chunks are split into days (which last around 7-10 minutes) and seasons. What you grow and do is dependent on the latter. But what are you farming for?

Again, without spoilers, the game tells you quite early on how long you’ve got to become the Apple of apples yet the game stretches beyond this boundary. Quests from residents nudge you along certain directions but you are free to ignore – if you want to forge your own path. Each day you drop off your produce to sell and collect your earnings – and so the grid begins! The loop of selling stuff to get money to buy new, better stuff is perfectly balanced in Stardew Valley. It’s loot: akin to Destiny or Diablo – always encouraging you to play just 5 more minutes to get that new shiny thingamajig you need. This is one extreme of the gaming/farming spectrum. Like the brilliant Slime Rancher; or crafting in Fallout 4 or engram farming in Destiny, the farming is almost (as fun as it is) is almost arbitrary. This game’s pull is the constant desire to improve your slice of Stardew Valley and realise your place in its world. Reminiscent of forgotten Wii gem Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles My Life as a King, you become very attached to your homestead which grows along with your pride – and earnings!

So what’s the other end of the spectrum?

One can easily walk past a game of Stardew Valley and write it off as a FarmVille 2017. This would be a great discredit but it is a possible reaction. The crafting, building and exploring this game encompasses either hooks you or it doesn’t. I love it! It’s the perfect game to hop into whilst the kids play next you. Five minutes or five hours – it doesn’t matter. They melt away regardless, making this a perfect fit for Nintendo’s console.

Thoroughly recommended!

FIFA 18 Switch Review

Version reviewed: Switch/Xbox One

*Update*

Several weeks post FIFA18’s launch, a strange phenomenon has occurred: I’ve played more FIFA then ever! Destiny 2’s weekly milestones and events are where the bulk of my game-time’s been spent but having FIFA on Switch has enabled me to play in the pockets of time in and amongst other things. For example, when the kids have their daily cartoon slot (5PM-6PM) it’s there to grind away a few games in career mode whilst still being able to sit with them. The settling in period which comes with all new football games is over and the gameplay feels comfortable – not PS4/X1 FIFA 18 – but better than the PS Vita and Wii U ‘efforts’. The control issues identified in the original article have mellowed as familiarity has grown. I’ve played the game predominantly in handheld mode; FIFA is and always will be about Career Mode for me and the Switch version is perfect for this. I dropped £49.99 for this game at the expense of some of the amazing downloadable titles a-buzz on Switch at the moment and it was definitely money well spent!

Original Article: 

Having held off pre-ordering any version of FIFA 18, I went into this week hoping for a nugget of analysis on the elusive Switch version of the game. With EA Access on Xbox One, I was able to spend some time with ‘full’ console version of FIFA 18; therefore this review will also touch on the Xbox version as well as the Switch one – just in case the sub-line is confusing! Time for kick off!

There’s a lot to unpack in a discussion regarding FIFA on Switch but we’ll start with what everyone wants to know: it plays good! The core gameplay is FIFA. In comparison to FIFA 17 and 18 the physics feel a bit more limited – especially compared to 18 on Xbox One which seems to have more frequent mis-kicks and random moments of the ball coming off your shin. Edit mode – as well as the full assortment of options are available. If – like me – you are still clinging on to Legacy Defending, there option to switch (click!) between modes is there. Whilst playing in handheld mode, the camera zooms in which can easily be tweaked in the options. However, a quality of life feature which would have been welcome is to have different option profiles for docked or handheld modes. You can do this for control set ups but the camera remained constant unless manually changed. 

Tent pole modes like career and Ultimate Team play as you would expect them to. Having played the ‘dynamic’ transfer negotiations on Xbox One, the Switch version’s traditional email system was actually a welcome return. By my third transfer negotiation on Xbox One the novelty had warn off. Everything else in career mode such as training, scouting and contract negotiations play exactly as they did in 16 and 17. 

Now for the tricky bit: is this a viable alternative to PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One FIFA? Clearly, this is the best portable FIFA. It is a light years ahead of the much-maligned 3DS, Vita or even Wii U versions. My purchase is justified as I think of the weekends away, train journeys and spontaneous multiplayer matches ahead. Despite the lack of Journey or online friend matchmaking, taking my career on the road is what I wanted. The one area that sets it below the ‘full’ versions is one I did not anticipate: the biggest limitation is the Switch itself.

In comparison to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 controllers, the Joy-Con pale in comparison. The smaller analogue sticks make turns and flicks that little bit more clunky. The action buttons require a split second longer press to result in the desired player pass or shot. It is noticeable. 

However, I am still happy with the purchase purely for the portability. It will interesting to see if the control issue mellows over time with adaptability; a Pro Controller would alleviate it at the expense of full handheld mode. If you can guarantee FIFA domination on the television for the next 12 months, there is no reason to look beyond the ‘full’ versions. If you have a FIFA widow or widower restlessly hinting it’s their turn, FIFA 18 on Switch is a great option to end the war of the television. 

Hopefully we won’t see the spat of ‘Legacy’ editions with simply updated rosters each year and this solid – if imperfect- first season can be built upon for next year.

Verdict: Recommend!

Destiny 2 Review

Version: Xbox One

MILD SPOILERS AHEAD

Update 1: Without blitzing the campaign, I’ve been taking my time to do what many Destiny players forget: enjoy the game. After about ten hours, my battle-hardened Guardian has maxed out to level 20 and the familiar end game is upon him. It feels as though Destiny 1 was one huge Beta test in preparation for the sequel. The journey to level 20 and the subsequent push to raise my ‘Power’ feels much like the original’s in 2014. D1 learnt that endless grinding of materials was a fruitless labour with the vanilla original quickly being updated to a modified progression system. When the focus drifts to raising stats Destiny becomes addictive yet some of the fun is drawn out. Playing the campaign reminded me how much enjoyment I had in 2014 – in the opening weeks of release – before raids and expansions. 

Destiny 2’s campaign is entertaining; giving you more of fan favourite characters like Cayde 6.The Destiny team at Bungie clearly know their sci-fi with the casting of Firefly alums Gina Torres and Nathan Fillion. In a later campaign mission, the developers show their sense of humour with the ensemble cast. I was tasked with destroying a Cabal spaceship, preventing its escape by destroying shield generators a la Empire Strikes Back. Any notion of happy coincidences are swashed when immediately after you seal the deal by sending a missile along the fuel pipes just like a certain rebel pilot did in 1977. Destiny 2 is filled with memorable writing and set pieces which will provide many water cooler conversation opportunities over the coming weeks and years. It truly stands out compared to competent shooters such as Titanfall 2; it excels at amusing in amongst the gunplay.

Above all, Destiny 2 is the pinnacle of shooting mechanics. Everything is perfectly balanced and – at the risk of sounding like Goldilocks – feels just right. D2, which is still less than a week old, is the new benchmark for shooters: the way the enemy heads pop in an explosion of numbers; sliding into a band of alien scum before face-palming them into the void or seamlessly switching between your arsenal of oddly named weaponry. Shooting is better in Destiny than any other game. At £42 delivered, this purchase is recommended and leaves me with a lingering question…

Will D2 tire by October 27th and Super Mario Odyssey? Or is Nintendo’s flagship character destined (shnarff!) to be ignored. At the moment, it is difficult to see how any other game could come close to distracting from Destiny 2 in the months ahead. More than recommend. 

Original: So far, so good. Destiny 2 – as we have known for some time – smacks the reset button before the end of the 1st mission. With your light removed lost along with all hope, it is up to you to salvage the remains of everything which was built in the original. Eyes up guardian! Or perhaps that should be ‘boots on the ground’ as the initial missions remove even the most basic of guardian powers such as double jumping. Either way it’s good to be home.

Whilst keeping the original as a template: social hub; interstellar adventures and loot hunting all present, Destiny 2 expands the final build of its predecessor. Immediately, it feels like Destiny’s Rise of Iron. Menus and gear harp back to the final days of OG Destiny albeit with some significant improvements. 
Firstly, missions take a more open world, fluid structure; no more jumping to orbit to launch into games. Destiny 2’s initial offering of story and new ‘Adventure’ missions offer plenty of early content. Each world has a friendly vendor who act similarly to the likes of factions such as Dead Orbit et al. Obviously the dash to be raid ready is important for some players but we enjoyed the fleshing out of Destiny 2’s campaign, steadily climbing the light ladder. On the note of content – in stark contrast with the previous game – in each world we found ourselves falling over Public Events. They’re everywhere! Added to this, a map system allowing missions/events/vendors to be tagged made traversing the level to find them much, much more intuitive. The usual Bungie epic-ness is present and correct during the campaign along with some witty dialogue between Ghost and the new and existing characters. 
Later on in the campaign, a wider range of game modes are unlocked including Strikes before fully opening up the end-game. Much like the original (again) the first 15 hours or so see you cycling through gear and weapons almost every mission to push your stats up before slowing towards the end. There are so many similarities to the first game but this is no criticism. This should be exactly the game fans of Destiny 1 wanted. 
So far, since launch it has been a daily dip in to forge through the campaign. 2017 will be remembered as a tale of two games: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, in the first half; Destiny 2 in the latter. Whatever comes next for Bungie and Activision’s behemoth shooter – and despite what problems and controversies it will surely face – based on what we’ve seen so far this is an essential game. Considering the value D1 offered pound for pound we’re excited for what the next 500 hours will bring. 

Destiny 2 Review in Progress (Spoiler free)

Version: Xbox One

So far, so good. Destiny 2 – as we have known for some time – smacks the reset button before the end of the 1st mission. With your light removed lost along with all hope, it is up to you to salvage the remains of everything which was built in the original. Eyes up guardian! Or perhaps that should be ‘boots on the ground’ as the initial missions remove even the most basic of guardian powers such as double jumping. Either way it’s good to be home.

Whilst keeping the original as a template: social hub; interstellar adventures and loot hunting all present, Destiny 2 expands the final build of its predecessor. Immediately, it feels like Destiny’s Rise of Iron. Menus and gear harp back to the final days of OG Destiny albeit with some significant improvements. 

Firstly, missions take a more open world, fluid structure; no more jumping to orbit to launch into games. Destiny 2’s initial offering of story and new ‘Adventure’ missions offer plenty of early content. Each world has a friendly vendor who act similarly to the likes of factions such as Dead Orbit et al. Obviously the dash to be raid ready is important for some players but we enjoyed the fleshing out of Destiny 2’s campaign, steadily climbing the light ladder. On the note of content – in stark contrast with the previous game – in each world we found ourselves falling over Public Events. They’re everywhere! Added to this, a map system allowing missions/events/vendors to be tagged made traversing the level to find them much, much more intuitive. The usual Bungie epic-ness is present and correct during the campaign along with some witty dialogue between Ghost and the new and existing characters. 

Later on in the campaign, a wider range of game modes are unlocked including Strikes before fully opening up the end-game. Much like the original (again) the first 15 hours or so see you cycling through gear and weapons almost every mission to push your stats up before slowing towards the end. There are so many similarities to the first game but this is no criticism. This should be exactly the game fans of Destiny 1 wanted. 

So far, since launch it has been a daily dip in to forge through the campaign. 2017 will be remembered as a tale of two games: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, in the first half; Destiny 2 in the latter. Whatever comes next for Bungie and Activision’s behemoth shooter – and despite what problems and controversies it will surely face – based on what we’ve seen so far this is an essential game. Considering the value D1 offered pound for pound we’re excited for what the next 500 hours will bring.