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 Odyssey Ranked Kingdoms

What’s the best Kingdom?

Just because!

  1. Metro Kingdom
  2. Mushroom Kingdom
  3. Bowser’s Kingdom
  4. Moon Kingdom
  5. Ruined Kingdom
  6. Lake Kingdom
  7. Cascade Kingdom
  8. Seaside Kingdom
  9. Sand Kingdom
  10. Luncheon Kingdom
  11. Cap Kingdom 
  12. Snow Kingdom
  13. Cloud Kingdom
  14. Wooded Kingdom (awesome music btw!)
  15. Lost Kingdom

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!

I have a (FIFA) dream

In Xmas 2013, I was eagerly expecting the birth of my first child: due in January. Booting up my beloved (third…) Xbox 360, I was greeted with a great offer on the latest FIFA and took the plunge. My wife and I regularly enter deep negotiations regarding usage rights of the big tv and so began a new chapter in the living room Wars.

Up until this point I’d been slumming it on FIFA 13 on Wii U and PlayStation Vita (yep, I know). These offscreen experiments failed to satiate my career mode desires; they fell short of the true console FIFAs. Before these, I’d even tried some cheap-yet-hopeful cinema glasses and hooked them up in standard def to FIFA 12 but inevitably failed. FIFA 14 on 360 gave me that full-fat experience but I was compromised by compromise; I needed a better solution. This was increasingly apparent especially with a new arrival on the way.

Shortly after child number one arrived, I bought a PlayStation 4 and FIFA 14 tantalised by the prospect of remote play on Vita. This proved to be another false dawn as shoddy consistency in connections along with the Vita’s control shortcomings. 

Over the last couple of years, FIFA has been relegated to the spare bedroom on a small – I mean really small – television which is barely 720p. It’s with this colourful history of broken off screen promises that I dared to dream one last time: FIFA on Switch. 

Reports from preview events clearly showed off the limitations of the Switch version: not running on the latest engine and missing The Journey. However, the game played well – according to reports – plus the career mode is on par with FIFA 17. Could this be the Cinderella story which proves to be the game which breaks the cycle of disappointment? Every year, ‘FIFA Widows’ (and widowers) are forged from the obsession millions upon millions have with this game. Less than a week away from launch, we wait with baited breath if this can truly succeed. Early reviews of the PS4/Xbox 1 versions are in yet the Switch version in conspicuous by its absence. Like many games which do not review until bang on release, an air of caution surrounds the great hope for living room harmony over the next 12 months. There has been no press release (at the time of writing) from EA or a demo on the Switch eshop. Can this game really fulfil the hopes of millions and be the best handheld football experience? It also can not be ignored just how important this series is to a console’s prospects. Dreamcast and Wii U – both epic failures – have one FIFA title between them; it is a crucial game to support the life of a console. 

We’ll find out this week. Look out for our review on Sunday. It may just be the Switch’s most important game ever.