The Top 10 Games 2017

Back in the N64 era, I noticed my games collection was slightly imbalanced. The vast majority of games on my shelf were football titles. My teenage self set the target of addressing the balance and making sure I had – in loose terms – one of each genre. What resulted was a mini-golden age of gaming. I could only have one shooter (obviously Goldeneye), one football game etc etc and through trading in and careful curation I made sure I only had the cream of the crop. I have 188 games on my PlayStation 4 through carried over purchases from PlayStation 3 and Vita, PlayStation Plus and hoarding in flash sales. In the download era it would be impossible to purge these games from my account but it got me thinking; what are the best games to play today? Top ten/hundred lists usually start getting predictable near the top, dominated by the likes of Mario 64. So, we are aiming to do something different. What are the best games to play in 2017? Nostalgic feelings and historical impact (we’ve got another list for that) on the industry are not applicable. Yes, San Andreas was important in 2004 but we’ve come a long way since then. Genres are defined by pennilessdads and we’ve also ignored sports titles as we felt that was too broad a heading. We aim to update this list at least 3 times a year. Some genres are unrepresented – sorry in advance!

2D era inspired game – Shovel Knight

The last ten years has seen a resurgence of 2D games and the tip of the spear is Shovel Knight. Riffing on sooo many games of yesteryear, this polished platform – which now has 3 campaigns – is great value. We await to see if August’s Sonic Mania can challenge Shovel Knight’s title. 

First person shooter – Destiny

Since 2014, the question I have asked when playing every game with a hand and a gun is: does it feel like Destiny? This is testament to the quality of Bungie’s epic online playground. As the journey of the original Destiny comes to an end, there’s one last chance to experience this great, genre defining experience. Will Destiny 2 overthrow it?

Racing – Mario Kart 8

Once upon a time, racing games like SEGA Rally, Daytona, Gran Turismo and Ridge Racer were tentpoles of console line ups. These days ‘serious’ racers are no longer at the forefront. The Forza series is arguably the best of these but the Switch’s recent deluxe version of Mario Kart 8 conquers all.

Story based action game – The Last of Us Remastered

There are so many games which could feature here. However, The Last of Us is a standout title and perhaps the game which elevated Naughty Dog to the highest tier of games designers – keeping company with the creme de la creme of games developers.  

3D collectathon platformer – Super Mario Galaxy 2

Following last gen’s trend of semi-sequels, an uncharacteristic Nintendo sequel to the fantastic Super Mario Galaxy is a varied collection of creative challenges which will change the way you think of a Mario game. Yes, Super Mario Odyssey will probably knock Galaxy 2 off its perch but we’ll have to wait until October for that. 

Crafting game – Fallout 4

Controversy! Minecraft inspired this element in many, many games but Fallout 4 has a – much maligned- base crafting feature which gives a nice change of pace with the rest of the game. Every settlement in Fallout 4 I come across now has a much refined plan to create an armoured, impervious foretress (concrete block the perimeter, guns intermittently around, robot protectors). A great aside to a great game which has unfair criticism in my humble opinion. 

High fantasy adventure – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

It was a three horse race between this, Skyrim and Witcher 3. BotW changes everything. This is as close to a perfect game as there has ever been. The end. 

Puzzle – Puyo Puyo Tetris

Harking back to the Gameboy game which catapulted tetrominoes into popular culture, this quirky crossover has a great array of modes and a manic story mode. Multiplayer puzzling has never been as much fun. An honourable mention would be The Witness. 

Turn based role playing – Persona 5

Final Fantasy 13 ushered in a lapse in quality of Square Enix’s epic series. Persona saw the gap at the top and grasped the opportunity. The latest Persona has caught public opinion dominating conversations in and around various games podcasts. Style and substance combined make this the current pinnacle of JRPGs. 

Horror – Until Dawn

The 32bit era sewed the seeds of survival horror with Resident Evil, refining it the point of (then) perfection in the fourth iteration in the next generation. Between 2005 and 2015 though, the genre suffered as the balance between action and scares became more one than the other (clue: it’s not horror). 

Enter Until Dawn. Recently available on PS Plus as one of the free games on PS4, this seemingly by the numbers teen horror movie matters so much more when you’re calling the shots. Within five minutes of starting, you’re already wishing one of the douchebags dead. A great twist on the Telltale style experience and great for couch co-op. 

Mike drop…

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Fast Racing RMX

Version reviewed: Nintendo Switch

Propping up the somewhat lite launch line up of Switch games is a game which is an – perhaps not the – answer to a question asked by many Nintendo fans. Fast Racing RMX is a futuristic Racer in the same vein as Wipeout or F-Zero – specifically the fondly remembered GameCube version; F-Zero GX. An updated, remixed version of the Wii U game, Fast Racing RMX aims to fill the void left by Nintendo’s last home console entry in the genre (made by SEGA FYI) which now stands at 13 years. With fans clamouring for GX 2, this game has a lot of weight on its shoulders…

In the Switch version, there is the usual offering of racing game modes such as time attack, versus and challenges. The Mario Kart-esque Grand Prix over four races is the meat of the game and that is where we’ll start. The aforementioned influences from SEGA’s F-Zero GX are clear in the track design. There are worm-like sections of track, rotating blockades and air-riding jumps which all hark back to the GameCube classic. Anyone who played that game will feel right at home with the controls, feel and structure of the game. The differentiating mechanic is a twist on the traditional boost/shield charge found in F-Zero. You can charge your boost/shield meter over strips as usual however some are orange and some are blue. A tap of the X button switches your ship’s colour between these – with matching its colour to the strip resulting in a boost or recharge. If you lose focus and head into an orange strip with a blue ship (or vice versa), you slow down as if you have gone off piste on Mario Kart. It is a fun mechanic which can be exploited in later tracks to slingshot past opposing racers. The power of the boost though requires further analysis.

When you activate boost – identical to F-Zero in execution – your already speedy ship takes off in an almost indistructable blur. Pretty to look at (especially compared to the Wii U version) and initially thrilling, this quickly dilutes the skill required to progress up the field. It feels perhaps a little too generous sometimes as multiple crash laps can sometimes be redeemed through hitting the orange and blue boost panels. This is a minor gripe but is the distinguishing factor between the quality of F-Zero GX. 

In multiplayer, the game excels too. Popping off the Joy-Cons and playing in split screen mode is comfortable and – most importantly – fun! We played in tabletop mode and had a smooth experience in 2 player again evoking memories of being huddled around N64s and GameCubes. 

It is worth noting this is a ‘budget’ game with a sub-£20 price tag. With F-Zero still on hiatus it snuggly slots into where it should be. The 32/64 bit era was awash with 3D platformers and futuristic racers (Trickstyle, Rollcage, Wipeout…). Now both of these styles of game seem to have fallen out of vogue. With this in mind, the question is: was this enjoyable because it is one of the only examples of the genre currently on release or because it is genuinely good? If Nintendo had granted the developers the F-Zero licence for the game and had the familiar characters and ships etc this would be heralded as a great return for the series and a worthy successor to the previous entry. The fact it is as good as it is without the boost of the iconic F-Zero name speaks volumes. This is a great game with beautiful graphics and is thoroughally recommended to anyone Jonesing for a fully fledged follow up to GX. 

Out with the old…

2016-17 has seen an increasing number of ‘retro’ boxes released or announced; Atari’s mysterious machine, NES/SNES Classic and SEGA’s new Megadrive/Genesis. What this draws attention to – among other things – is how far the industry has travelled in a relatively short space of time. With this thought in mind, it has become apparent that much of our lexicon has become outdated. Similar to plastic guitar periphals, motion controls and Bubsy the Bobcat, certain words and phrases used everyday in gaming forums (literal and figurative) are archaic and in need of updating. 

Adventure – Once confined to 90’s PCs, ‘adventure’ games (inclusive of point and click) have enjoyed a recent resurgence. Grim Fandango along with several other Lucasarts titles have been pointed, clicked and dragged into the 21st Century. Obtuse gameplay with one linear yet baffling pathway usually defined these games – requiring the player to put together the random assortment of paraphernalia to trigger the next part of the adventure in question. The term ‘adventure’ encompasses more than these though. The spiritual successor to these games are surely the Telltale Games series which apes the point and click mechanic albeit with more choice over the story elements. Perhaps these games are more greatly defined by their slow-burning, intricate stories and the term ‘adventure’ is in lieu of saying so. Yet the label ‘adventure’ is not always indicative of this as exemplified by Sonic Adventure (cheap shot I know – love it really!). So what is an adventure game? What should we call games like Discworld, Minecraft Story Mode or Life is Strange? ‘Walking simulator’ doesn’t seem to cut it…

Arcade – This is a place we went to in our youths to pay money to play games. It is not – I repeat, not – a genre. A common tag line of certain games is it boasts ‘arcade’ style gameplay. Highly doubtful as the last game I played like this – Fast Racing RMX – didn’t create the urge to ram 50p into my Switch or make a rude username to appear in the lap time records. Perhaps this though is the spirit of the term: chasing high scores. Playing through bite size chunks of gameplay and repeating until one refined the experience. Should then, the term be ‘high-score-a-thon’? ‘Arcade’ covers too much to encompass all it consumes at present; racing, fighters, sports…the list goes on. 

dlc – The worst offender on the list. I’m not going to talk about horse armour but just think how silly this sounds. My PS4, Xbox One and Switch are crammed with fully fledged retail games which were downloaded. Fallout 4, Destiny and Mario Kart 8 all sit shackled to my consoles yet free from the constraints of physical media – safe in the knowledge they can never be traded in. They are all downloaded content. So why is an expansion referred to as ‘dlc’? Why have we not got a more elegant name for a term which – in addition – has got some quite negative connotations? Then there’s cloud based games like PlayStation Now which has games advertised with ‘all dlc included’ yet you never download the game or the additional material. Think about it. 

Indie – Taking root in the now defunct Xbox Live Arcade era and blossoming through last gen and now, smaller games (or downloadable content…) seem to be tagged with the term ‘indie’. This happens in music too. ‘Indie’ is an abbreviation of ‘independent’ meaning the band – or game – is being created sans a record label or publisher. An accurate example of an ‘indie’ game would be Thomas was Alone or Super Meat Boy. However, larger studios have got in on the act challenging the notion that all games must be £45 upon entry. These include Child of Light or Journey. They are not independent, rather the opposite. What they have in common with many ‘indies’ is the smaller game size. 

Platformer – Sonic and Mario are different. You can almost see the design meeting SEGA had when establishing their mascot. Sonic is fast and Mario is slow in comparison. Mario is red with blue clothes so Sonic is blue with red clothes (sneakers). Mario is the anti-hero, the everyman thrust into danger to save the girl, whereas Sonic is bold with an attitude. It doesn’t matter who or what he’s saving he just does it – like a Nike advert. In fact, the original Sonic 1 instruction booklet translated the back story incorrectly. Japanese players thought the Green Hill Zone took place on Earth yet in the West we believed it to be the fictional world of Mobius. I digress. The thing they have in common, is jumping on platforms. Fast forward twenty years though and the worlds – whatever they are – they inhabit are hard pushed to be described as ‘platformers’. A term which has been coined to describe the 3D iterations of these games has been ‘collect-a-thon’. In Super Mario 64 you had to collect the stars to restore power to the castle which unlocked more doors so you could unlock more stars to find more doors which led to Bowser. In Banjo-Kazooie you found Jiggies which were the missing pieces in paintings which when complete allowed you to enter said world and find more Jiggies in order to…you get the idea. In 3D Sonic games you collect Sonic Emblems just because. Anyway, the platforming elements of these games have fallen by the wayside – especially in 3D Sonic which would be better classified as ‘rollercoaster’. 2D platformer sits fine but what do we call the 3D ones: adventure games? 

RPG – ‘Role Playing Game’ encompasses everything. When I picked up a Pong paddle, I was playing a role. When I play Virtua Tennis, I’m playing a role. To be more specific, the ‘role playing’ part is generally attributed to the development of skills and powers throughout the game. This is why many games are described as having ‘RPG elements’; open world stealth with RPG elements or sports simulation with RPG elements. So what then is an RPG if most games these days could be classified as having features of them? Skyrim: Elf simulation with RPG elements? The term has transitioned from a genre to a mechanic. What is it which defines a game with RPG mechanics – like Darksiders 2 – from a RPG like Final Fantasy 15? What is Zelda: Breath of the Wild? 
Which games-related terms would you like to see changed? What will we be describing, classifying and labelling games in 10 years time? Who decides them? Who watches the deciders?