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!

The Greatest Games I’ve Ever Played

THE List

Top 10/100 – whatever – lists irk me slightly due to the changing nature of the industry. What was ‘the greatest game ever’ 5 years ago may now seem janky and less favourable as games evolve. This list, which is a working document, is based on the experience at the time. I wouldn’t recommend playing some of the ZX Spectrum games on here but at the time they were brilliant. Hopefully I can remember all the games I’ve ever played; they’ll be added to as and when…

  1. Zelda: Breath of the Wild Switch
  2. Fallout 3 Xbox 360
  3. Zelda: Ocarina of Time N64
  4. Super Mario 64 N64
  5. Resident Evil 4 Wii
  6. Skyrim Xbox 360
  7. Super Mario Allstars SNES
  8. Super Mario World SNES
  9. Zelda: Wind Waker GameCube
  10. Destiny 2 Xbox One
  11. Destiny PS4
  12. Super Mario Galaxy 2 Wii
  13. Bioshock Infinite Xbox 360
  14. Super Mario Galaxy Wii
  15. Zelda: Twilight Princess Wii
  16. Metal Gear Solid 2 PS2
  17. Metal Gear Solid PlayStation
  18. Fallout 4 PS4
  19. Zelda: Link Between Worlds 3DS
  20. Pokemon Gold/Silver Gameboy
  21. Pokemon Fire Red Gameboy Advance
  22. Pokemon Yellow Gameboy
  23. Pokemon Red/Blue Gameboy
  24. Super Mario Bros 3 NES
  25. Metal Gear Solid 5 PS4
  26. Dead Space Xbox 360
  27. Assassin’s Creed 2 PS3
  28. God of War PS2
  29. Sonic Mega Collection GameCube
  30. Sonic Jam Saturn
  31. Sonic 3 & Knuckles Megadrive 
  32. Tetris Gameboy
  33. Donkey Kong Country SNES
  34. Metroid Prime GameCube
  35. Arkham Asylum PS3
  36. Bioshock Xbox 360
  37. Firewatch PS4
  38. Arkham Origins PS3
  39. The Beatles Rock Band Xbox 360
  40. Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D 3DS
  41. Stardew Valley Switch
  42. Zelda: Skyward Sword
  43. Pokemon X 3DS
  44. Metal Gear Solid Twin Snakes GameCube
  45. Super Mario 64 DS
  46. Metal Gear Solid 3 PS2
  47. Sonic 2 Megadrive 
  48. F-Zero GX GameCube
  49. Arkham Knight PS4
  50. Mario Kart 64 N64
  51. Super Mario Kart SNES
  52. Yoshi’s Island SNES
  53. Banjo-Kazooie N64
  54. Bioshock 2 Xbox 360
  55. Guitar Hero 3 Wii
  56. Rock Band Xbox 360
  57. Mario Kart Double Dash GameCube
  58. Final Fantasy X PS2
  59. Mario Kart Wii Wii
  60. Doom PlayStation
  61. Bloodborne PS4
  62. Smash Bros Melee GameCube
  63. Sonic Generations Xbox 360
  64. Earthworm Jim Megadrive 
  65. Need for Speed 2 SE PC
  66. Sonic 1 Mega Drive
  67. Resident Evil 4 PS2
  68. Mario Picross Gameboy
  69. Assassin’s Creed 4 Black Flag Wii U
  70. Zelda Picross 3DS
  71. Arkham City Xbox 360
  72. Tomb Raider PS4
  73. Grand Theft Auto Vice City
  74. Guitar Hero World Tour Xbox 360
  75. Smash Bros Brawl Wii
  76. Donkey Kong Country 2 SNES
  77. Oblivion Xbox 360
  78. Pokemon Black DS
  79. Pokemon Black 2 DS
  80. Zelda Wind Waker HD Wii U
  81. Zelda Twilight Princess HD Wii U
  82. Sonic Advance Gameboy Advance
  83. Star Wars Ep1 Racer N64
  84. Zelda: Majora’s Mask N64
  85. Zelda: Link to the Past Gameboy Advance
  86. Super Mario Bros NES
  87. Final Fantasy 7 PlayStation 
  88. FIFA 18 Switch
  89. FIFA 10 PS3
  90. Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 PS3
  91. FIFA 11 PS3
  92. FIFA 12 Xbox 360
  93. Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 PS3
  94. FIFA 13 Xbox 360
  95. FIFA 14 Xbox 360
  96. Mario Kart 8 Wii U
  97. Megadrive Ultimate Collection PS3
  98. Zelda: Link’s Awakening Gameboy
  99. Wario Land 3 Gameboy
  100. Pro Evolution Soccer PS2
  101. Gears of War Xbox 360
  102. Sonic Adventure Dreamcast
  103. Donkey Kong 64 N64
  104. Jumping Flash PlayStation
  105. Pro Evolution Soccer 2 PS2
  106. International Superstar Soccer Pro Evolution PlayStation 
  107. Tetris DS
  108. Street Racer SNES
  109. God of War 2 PS2
  110. Transformers War for Cybertron PS3
  111. Rare Replay Xbox One
  112. Grand Theft Auto San Andreas
  113. Football Manager 2005 PC
  114. Pro Evolution Soccer 5 PS2
  115. Gears of War 2 Xbox 360
  116. Pro Evolution Soccer 4 PS2
  117. Pro Evolution Soccer 3 PS2
  118. Football Manager 2006 PC
  119. International Superstar Soccer 64 N64
  120. International Superstar Soccer 98 N64
  121. International Superstar Soccer SNES
  122. Super Mario Sunshine GameCube
  123. Project Gotham Racing 3 Xbox 360
  124. Goldeneye N64
  125. Ridge Racer PlayStation 
  126. Mortal Kombat 2 Megadrive 
  127. Streets of Rage 2 Megadrive 
  128. Aladdin Megadrive 
  129. Donkey Kong Gameboy
  130. New Super Mario Bros U Wii U
  131. Pro Evolution Soccer 6 Xbox 360
  132. Pokemon Snap N64
  133. Super Mario 3D Land 3DS
  134. Tekken 3 PlayStation 
  135. Soul Calibur 2 GameCube
  136. Arkham City Armoured Edition Wii U
  137. Beetle Adventure Racing N64
  138. Metroid Prime 2 Echoes GameCube
  139. Grand Theft Auto 4 Xbox 360
  140. Zelda: Four Swords GameCube
  141. Okami Wii
  142. Super Mario 3D World Wii U
  143. Sonic Gems PS2
  144. 007 Agent Under Fire PS2
  145. Tomb Raider 2 PC
  146. SEGA Rally Saturn
  147. Pokemon Platinum DS
  148. Grand Theft Auto 4 Xbox 360
  149. Grand Theft Auto 3 PS2
  150. Football Manager 2007 DS
  151. Yooka-Laylee PS4
  152. World of Illusion Megadrive
  153. Luigi’s Mansion GameCube
  154. Hyrule Warriors Wii U
  155. Super Monkey Ball 2 GameCube
  156. Spyro the Dragon PlayStation
  157. Streets of Rage Megadrive 
  158. Golden Axe Megadrive 
  159. Lion King Mega Drive
  160. Mortal Kombat 3 PlayStation
  161. Tiger Woods 2003 Xbox
  162. My Life as a King Wii
  163. Crackdown Xbox 360
  164. Resogun PS4 
  165. Pokemon Pearl DS
  166. Banjo Kazooie Nutz n Boltz Xbox 360
  167. Marvel Ultimate Alliance PS3
  168. LEGO Star Wars Complete Saga Xbox 360
  169. Motorstorm PS3
  170. Star Wars Battlefront PS4
  171. Nintendo Land Wii U
  172. FIFA 2003 GameCube
  173. Fighters Megamix Saturn
  174. FIFA 2001 PlayStation 
  175. Super Monkey Ball GameCube
  176. Rogue Leader GameCube
  177. House of the Dead 2 Dreamcast
  178. Tekken PlayStation
  179. Street Fighter Alpha Saturn
  180. Crystal Defenders PSP
  181. LEGO Star Wars PS2
  182. Worms PSP
  183. Arkham VR PSVR
  184. Marvel Vs Capcom 2 Xbox 360
  185. Star Fox Adventures GameCube
  186. Doom 3 Xbox
  187. Pokemon Stadium N64
  188. Transformers Fall of Cybertron PS3
  189. Spider-Man The Movie GameCube 
  190. Pro Evolution Soccer 6 PSP
  191. Olympic Soccer PlayStation
  192. Rise of the Tomb Raider PS4
  193. Shenmue Dreamcast 
  194. Final Fantasy 13 PS3
  195. Tomb Raider 3 PC
  196. Master Chief Collection Xbox One
  197. Super Smash Bros N64
  198. Pokemon Ruby Gameboy Advance
  199. Chu Chu Rocket Dreamcast
  200. Shovel Knight 3DS
  201. Rogue Squadron N64
  202. Panzer Dragoon Saturn
  203. Alleyway Gameboy
  204. Halo Xbox
  205. Halo 3 Xbox 360
  206. Halo 2 Xbox
  207. Sonic and the Secret Rings Wii
  208. 007 Nightfire GameCube
  209. Perfect Dark Zero Xbox 360
  210. Return of the King GameCube
  211. God of War Chains of Olympus PSP 
  212. The Fellowship of the Ring GameCube 
  213. The Two Towers PS2
  214. SEGA Rally 2 Dreamcast
  215. The Simpsons Arcade Xbox 360
  216. Zelda: Spirit Tracks DS
  217. Soul Reaver 2 PS2
  218. Sonic Adventure 2 GameCube
  219. Mario Kart Super Circuit Gameboy Advance
  220. Wii Sports Wii
  221. Power Stone Dreamcast
  222. Donkey Kong NES
  223. Fast Racing Neo Switch
  224. Disney Infinity 2.0 PS3
  225. Football Manager 2006 Xbox 360
  226. Halo Reach Xbox 360
  227. New Super Mario Bros Wii
  228. New Super Mario Bros DS
  229. Power Stone Collection PSP
  230. Mortal Kombat Deception PS2
  231. UEFA Striker Dreamcast
  232. Striker 96 PlayStation
  233. Soul Reaver PlayStation 
  234. LittleBigPlanet PS3
  235. Kirby’ Adventure NES
  236. Pac-Man NES
  237. Ninja Turtles NES
  238. Adventure Island Turbo Grafix
  239. Wii Sports Resort Wii
  240. Wii Play Wii
  241. Mass Effect Xbox 360
  242. Sonic Unleashed Xbox 360
  243. Viva Piñata Xbox 360
  244. Basil the Great Mouse Detective  ZX Spectrum
  245. Bejewelled Xbox 360
  246. Columns Megadrive 
  247. Football Manager 2007 Xbox 360
  248. Castle of Illusion Megadrive
  249. Super Hang On Megadrive 
  250. Batman Returns Megadrive 
  251. Street Fighter 2 Championship Edition Mega Drive
  252. Super Paper Mario Wii
  253. Goldeneye Wii
  254. World Cup 98 N64
  255. LEGO Batman 3 PS4
  256. Assassin’s Creed Unity Xbox One
  257. Virtua Fighter Deluxe Saturn
  258. Discworld PlayStation
  259. FIFA Road to World Cup 98 N64
  260. Force Unleashed Xbox 360
  261. Quantum of Solace Xbox 360
  262. Doom 64 N64
  263. Super Scope 6in1 SNES
  264. Pilotwings Resort 3DS
  265. 1080 Snowboarding N64
  266. Theme Park PlayStation
  267. Tomb Raider PC
  268. Ridge Racer Type 4 PlayStation 
  269. Top Gear Overdrive N64
  270. The Curse of Sherwood ZX Spectrum
  271. Mortal Kombat SNES
  272. Assassin’s Creed 3 Wii U
  273. Battle Arena Tohshinden PlayStation
  274. Panzer Dragoon Orta Xbox
  275. Batman Megadrive 
  276. Loaded PlayStation
  277. Resident Evil 6 Xbox 360
  278. Halo 3 ODST Xbox 360
  279. Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz Wii
  280. Sonic 3D Saturn
  281. Sonic 3D Megadrive 
  282. Turok 2 N64
  283. Pikmin 3 Wii U
  284. Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles GameCube
  285. PN 03 GameCube
  286. Rebel Strike GameCube
  287. Crisis Core PSP
  288. Medieval PlayStation
  289. Power Rangers SNES
  290. Nights Saturn
  291. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood Xbox 360
  292. Ultimate Doom PC
  293. Assassin’s Creed Xbox 360
  294. Sonic Generations 3DS
  295. Sonic Spinball Megadrive 
  296. Wave Race Gameboy
  297. Knuckles Chaotix 32X
  298. Transformers Revenge of the Fallen PS3 
  299. Ristar Mega Drive 
  300. Gex 3D Enter the Gecko PlayStation
  301. Mario Kart DS
  302. Metroid Fusion Gameboy Advance 
  303. LEGO Batman Xbox 360
  304. Metroid 2 Gameboy
  305. Story of Thor Megadrive 
  306. Lemmings 3D PlayStation
  307. Revenge of Shinobi Megadrive 
  308. Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture PS4
  309. Commandos PC
  310. Warioware Gameboy Advance
  311. Assassin’s Creed Bloodlines PSP
  312. Turok N64
  313. Arkham Origins Blackgate 3DS
  314. Horace Goes Skiing  ZX Spectrum
  315. Star Wars 32X
  316. Resident Evil Mercenaries 3DS
  317. Batman Begins Xbox
  318. Porsche Challenge PlayStation
  319. Sonic Superstar Tennis Wii
  320. Transformers Dark of the Moon Xbox 360
  321. Star Fox SNES
  322. Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops PSP
  323. FIFA 99 N64
  324. Need for Speed 3 Hot Pursuit PC
  325. FIFA 08 PS3
  326. Link’s Crossbow Training Wii
  327. Sonic Rush DS
  328. Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 Wii
  329. Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3DS
  330. Kid Chameleon Megadrive 
  331. The Flintstones Megadrive
  332. Dark Sector Xbox 360
  333. Vac Man ZX Spectrum
  334. Band Hero Xbox 360
  335. Balloon Fight NES
  336. FIFA 07 Xbox 360
  337. School Daze ZX Spectrum
  338. Wario Land 2 Gameboy Color
  339. Digimon PlayStation
  340. Alien Trilogy PlayStation 
  341. Transformers The Movie Xbox 360
  342. James Bond Live and Let Die  ZX Spectrum
  343. Sonic Heroes GameCube
  344. XIII PS2
  345. FIFA 2005 PS2
  346. Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) Xbox 360
  347. Resident Evil Umbrella Chronicles Wii
  348. Resident Evil Darkside Chronicles Wii
  349. Castlevania 64 N64
  350. The Two Towers Gameboy Advance
  351. Vectorman Megadrive 
  352. Jurassic Park Megadrive 
  353. Fusion Frenzy Xbox
  354. Tiger Woods 10 Wii
  355. Grand Slam Tennis Wii
  356. FIFA 2002 PS2
  357. Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 PS3
  358. LEGO Rock Band Xbox 360
  359. FIFA 12 3DS
  360. Force Unleashed PSP
  361. SEGA Soccer Saturn
  362. FIFA 07 DS
  363. Incoming PC
  364. Metal Gear Solid Acid PSP
  365. Night Trap PS4
  366. Tiger Woods DS
  367. Sonic 2 Game Gear
  368. Celebrity Deathmatch PS2
  369. FIFA 06 Road to the World Cup Xbox 360
  370. Sonic Rivals PSP
  371. FIFA 98 Road to the World Cup SNES
  372. Guitar Hero On Tour DS
  373. Pokemon Dream Radar 3DS
  374. FIFA 64 N64
  375. World Cup 98 Gameboy
  376. Bubsy the Bobcat Megadrive
  377. FIFA 97 PC
  378. Doritos Crash Course Xbox 360
  379. FA Premier League STARS PC
  380. Transformers The Movie PSP
  381. James Bond Junior SNES 

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. 

Royale Revolution?

Which games should have Battle Royale modes?

The newest in-thing in games is the ‘Battle Royale’ genre; is it a game mode or a feature which should be exclusive to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG)? The premise is a 100 player death match on an island with an increasingly shrinking playing area – a bit like a digital Hunger Games. Fortnite has been one of the first ‘fast followers’ to the Battle Royale party and has been met with friction from PUBG. The term is here to stay – like Metroidvania or Roguelike – as Alanah Pearce wrote for IGN recently (http://m.uk.ign.com/articles/2017/09/22/pubg-publicly-shaming-fortnite-is-a-terrible-pr-move). But which other games would make for awesome Battle Royals modes?

Destiny 2: Trials Royale

Could you imagine this? The carnage would be incredible: especially if you could drop in as a fireteam. The weapon collecting system from PUBG would be redundant to a certain extent though placing vehicles and/or limited use weapons could make it even more interesting. Destiny 2’s open world style world maps would be ideal for a 100 player fight to the death mode. 

The Legend of Zelda: Battle of the Wild

Unlikely yet simultaneously logical. Drop 100 Links on a region of the map with nothing Eventide Island style and procure weapons on site. Throw a few Lynels in for good measure too. No, wait – let one person be the Lynel…No amiibo!

Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain of Battling Royale 

This game has sat on my shelf for two years now since completion; the mechanically-perfect masterpiece is perhaps the most likely candidate for a Battle Royale shooter. Clearly the blend of stealth and bombastic, Bay-esque firepower would be an excellent template to unleash 100 Infants Terrible upon each other. 

Pokemon: Battlemon Tournament

Hear me out. Choose a starting Pokemon and acquire 5 Pokeballs. Drop 100 Pokemon trainers onto an open, full world map such as Kanto and slowly narrow the map area. Aside from your starter, all Pokemon are caught in the game world and there are no Pokemon Centres. Revives and Potions etc are procedurally dropped around the world. This is the best bit: just like in the core-game RPGs, any trainers making eye contact must battle. Once all Pokemon in your party faint, it’s game over. Only the very best – like no one ever was – will win! 

Mario Kart 8: Royale Dash

100 drivers. 3 balloons each.  Wuhu Island. Done. 

Banjo-Kazooie: Nutz N Battlez

Banjo and Kazooie’s last outing – nearly 10 years ago – suffered from not being what their fan base wanted. The construction tools in this game are simple to understand yet have amazing depth. Drop bear and bird into the battlefield and scour for new parts. Don’t be caught in the menu screens though; budding engineers need to assemble new parts quickly and efficiently. The other 99 players are made up of Banjo’s supporting cast like Bottles as well as long forgotten platform heros like Cool Spot, Zool and Earthworm Jim. Last 90s mascot standing wins. Yooka and Laylee available as paid dlc. 

Which games do you think should take inspiration from PUBG? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @pennilessdads

Sonic Mania Mania

What next for the blue blur?

After 20-so years of hurt, Sonic Mania delivered the true sequel to the 16 bit trilogy (& Knuckles). We deemed the game a “masterpiece” (find our review here), which is an accurate description. But where will Sonic go next? With so many false dawns, can we really expect something which has evaded the series for so long; consistency?

For every breath of hope like Sonic Generations or Sonic Advance, we get a Boom or Unleashed. The semi-sequel to Generations – Sonic Forces – comes with careful optimism but what will we see next in the vein of Mania? Time for us to spin past the future signpost a la Sonic CD…

Sonic Mania 2?

The obvious choice it seems. However, consider the following. Between Sonic Mania, Sonic Generations (PS3/X360/PC) and its Nintendo 3DS counterpart many of the ‘original generation’ (OG) Zones have been reused already in recent games. Plus add in that Sonic Adventure 2 is pretty much a 3D version of some of Sonic & Knuckles’ Zones. This means the creativity pool – and therefore future throwback Zones – are limited.

Going from the OG 16 bit games, the unused Zones are: Marble, Springyard, Labyrinth, Starlight, Scrap Metal, Emerald Hill, Aquatic Ruin, Casino Night, Hill Top, Mystic Cave, Metropolis, Sky Chase, Wing Fortress, Angel Island, Marble Garden, Carnival Night, Ice Cap, Launch Base, Hidden Palace and Doomsday. If they were grouped thematically, the scope becomes even narrower:grass/rural, lava/underground, pinball, element-based and mechanical. Arguably the most memorable moments have also been plundered. The epic downhill snowboard set piece which opens Ice Cap Zone was repeated in Sonic Adventure plus the Sky Chase Zone format was aped in Sonic Mania. In other words, would a different direction be a better option?

Sonic Maker?

After Mario’s successful foray into user generated content, one wonders if Sonic could do – as has been seen many times throughout gaming history – the same as Nintendo’s mascot? Mario gets a kart-racer, so does Sonic. Mario gets a board game, so does Sonic. Why not a creation game too? As with the afore mentioned, just imitate. Have a selection of possible ‘skins’ and a collection of level themes (see above). Let the – evidently – hungry Sonic maniacs do the hard work then of creating endless challenge rooms and hard as nails Green Hill variants.

Sonic Mania Adventure

When revisiting the OG games recently, it was clear they haven’t held up well. Mania has done the remarkable job of updating them whilst still feeling modern and relevant. Could SEGA do this for the 3D games? Despite their flaws, some of Sonic’s 3D games have provided some memorable moments. Could these be a source of inspiration for future 2D games? Sonic Advance was heavily inspired by Adventure (and a certain long-armed yellow star sub-mascot…) and was one of the leading lights for 2D Sonic in between Knuckles and Mania. Also, one of the stranger features of the console/PC version of Generations was the 2D white overworld which could be traversed and explored. Could the 3D stages become inspiration for some Metroidvania style exploration within   Zones? Sonic’s seemingly eternal struggle with the 3rd dimension could be sidestepped or – more excitedly – finally be mastered. The collective team behind Sonic Mania understand Sonic is more than just speed, perhaps they could apply this to the sometimes too speed focused 3D titles.

One thing which is for sure though; excitement for the blue blur has not been this high for a long time. Whatever SEGA cook up next, they have a tough act to follow. We look forward to seeing where we’re hed(gehog)ing next…

Sorry.

Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Review

Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4

In the rich tapestry of games history, full motion video (FMV) is a niche chapter – dangling from the narrative along with 90s virtual reality, scratch and sniff (FIFA 2000) and Wii Fit. The advent of early CD-ROM consoles promised great things; CD quality music and…the answer to what extra Mega/SEGA CD et al brought to the table is undefined. FMV is one type of game not possible on the likes of SNES and Megadrive/Genesis and a poster boy for the iteration on the generation. There is a lot that can be said of Night Trap’s colourful history but here we are in 2017 renewing the conversation. What is this game and what is the fuss all about?

On starting the game, a short clip explains the premise. You are working with a military response team investigating a seemingly normal family house in the heart of Americana where five teens have recently gone missing. There are eight video feeds to watch from in and around the house. Pressing triangle or circle activates one of the hidden ‘night traps’ in each room – hopefully snaring some of the mysterious Augers roaming the property. Imagine being Kevin McAllister in Home Alone and you get the idea. I remember Night Trap from the furore around it in the wider press plus screenshots/articles in games media. We’re not going into bans etc but one thing that was never explained at the time was; how do you actually play it?

After giving you a quick taste of how to use the night traps, the difficulty spikes as a colour coded system is layered onto the activation system. Listening carefully to the conversations between the characters gives you clues which colours to use. Let too many augers overrun the house and you are promptly fired from your role of god in the house. Now the difficult bit.

Evaluating Night Trap is a difficult task. The gameplay is obtuse, pushing back on the player. Persistence and patience is needed to access the game beyond ten minutes or so of gameplay. Like all unforgiving puzzles though, the moment you figure out a section, understanding something you couldn’t previously, is rewarding. The game then becomes something akin to Majora’s Mask where you watch, analyse and connect the events unfolding in front of you. Each repeat play through (expect a lot of game over screens FYI) moves you a bit closer to achieving success in the game. We found ourselves edging a little further each time. Ironically considering how cutting edge it was in 1992, the gameplay is more closely related to 70s/80s arcade games – learning patterns to beat it. Having just come off a review of Until Dawn, it shows in stark contrast how much quality of life features in games narrative have evolved over the last 25 years. Anyone looking for this to compete with a Resident Evil 7 will struggle but this edition needs to exist for a different reason. It isn’t here to compete with the bleeding edge of survival horror in 2017. 

Without any doubt, the acting in Night Trap is more Sharknado than Jaws. It becomes a metaphor for what the game is; a game of its time. SEGA’s modular upgrades to the Megadrive/Genesis are too mirrors of Night Trap and its steep accessibility bar. Whilst most 16 bit games are readily accessible through retro consoles, compilations or re-releases, there is a pocket of games like Night Trap from Mega/SEGA CD, 32X and Saturn which are lost to the sands of time or the sands of eBay – with high entry barriers. Collecting these systems and games plus making them talk to modern televisions is a chore (speaking from experience). What this edition presents is the game released all of those years ago. There are options to adjust the display to be in line with subsequent re-releases or in an updated 2017 mode. There are also additional scenes as well as video content exploring the conception of the game. Fans of the original will enjoy the unlockable extras. But the big question is; should you play it? 

When Night Trap released in 1992, the types of game it was surrounded by were the (excellent) Sonic 2 and Super Mario Land 2. Mortal Kombat was also unleashed on the world that year and is perhaps the closest (graphically) to Night Trap. The aforementioned three games are required reading in the history of how this industry evolved. Night Trap should also fall into this category. If you go into this game with your Sharknado hat on or simply want to explore a niche genre with DNA from the past and future it is worth venturing into the game. I am glad this exists on PS4 and hope more of the missing era of games in between the 16 and 32 bit eras can find their way to be released. If you want to see what the future looked like in 1992, give it a go.

Sonic Mania Review

Version Reviewed: Xbox One

In the opening cinematic to Sonic Mania, a countdown timer goes from 1 to 2 to 3 then Knuckles before arriving on Mania. Sonic 4 (both episodes), the plethora of 3D adventures and werewolves are left at the door. The question everyone wants to know upon this games’ release; is this really the successor to the evangelised – by some – Megadrive games?

Upon booting up Sonic Mania, the nostalgia strings of your heart are pulled. The game, which begins the only way it can, follows Sonic (with or without twin-tailed sidekick) hunting Dr. Robotnik across a mix of newly created zones – some based on themes from earlier games. Hydro City- one of my most despised Zones from Sonic 3 – is present yet feels completely different from its 16 bit ancestor. As with all of the ‘remixed’ zones there are familiar traps, architecture and enemy placement which rekindle forgotten memories of yesteryear. Each feels fresh and exciting whilst have a warm sense of happy familiarity. 

The moment to moment gameplay is exceptional for two reasons. Firstly, the game understands what makes Sonic fun. When uncertain of the road ahead the blue blur throws caution into the wind and speeds towards adventure whilst never feeling on-rails. Secondly, the game removes many of the grievances of past Sonic games. Our hero’s struggles in 3D aside, the Megadrive games have not aged well – particularly the pace and structure of the levels. Sonic Mania rectifies this by ironically taking a few lessons from the Mario school of game design. In the same way the environments in Mario guide and teach you the rules of the world, Mania’s subtle design choices do the same. In one zone, Sonic can be frozen in an ice cube which can be shaken off with a few presses of the jump button or moving. Instinctive, yet a puzzle in this level requires you to use the ice to forge ahead. There’s a cleverness and confidence in the level design which has been missing from many of Sonic’s 21st Century outings. Plus it excels in one area more than others.

Without spoiling the best parts of this game, the boss fights are inspired. Fan favourites – and we mean hardcore fans’ – return in unexpected places with possibly the most creative, smile-spreading end of level battles ever created. To give examples would rob you of this but trust us; they are good! As with Sonic 3 and Knuckles, each act has a boss. Each level has you sat on the edge of your seat waiting to see what concoction of terror awaits; like a furry, sugar coated My Little Pony/Saw mash up.

As with Sonic 3 and Knuckles, players can choose different combinations of the three (best) Sonic heroes to play as. The game plays homage to the above games’ special stages and the ‘UFO’ style stages from Sonic CD. These help to vary the gameplay though it is always welcome to return to the main body of the game. Also, if you remember the Sky Chase Zone from Sonic 2 or Sonic Adventure, a brief homage is made in the Mirage Saloon Zone. Again it looks like we remember Sonic 2 but upon closer inspection extra details and better animations are present. In this review, I’ve tried to steer clear of comparisons with previous Sonic games but this is perhaps unavoidable; this is the best Sonic game to play today. 

Every corner of this game oozes with the developers’ love and passion for this series. Despite the 16 bit stylings, the game is anything but. Like Shovel Knight, the animations are detailed and sleek. The original music and backgrounds have added layers which pop in 2017 HD. Added visual effects like fallen rings hurtling in and out of the screen add to the high production values in this game. Having recently revisited Sonic 3 & Knuckles on Xbox 360/One, PC and Nintendo DS, it is worth identifying that Mania’s controls are tighter than its predecessors. No death feels unfair – another stark difference to the Megadrive games. Again akin to Shovel Knight, the addition of further remixed stages to play through as Knuckles adds value to what is already a substantial package – the game is much bigger than Sonic 3 FYI…

Having spent much of 1993 reading Sonic the Comic or Mean Machines SEGA gawping at screenshots of Sonic 3, I remember scraping enough money through odd jobs to buy the game on its release. The same buzz of popping that game into my Megadrive is felt when loading up Sonic Mania. It understands why that era of gaming is special. There is something about Sonic which appeals to the child at heart. Playing Mania for review with my 1 year old son, he too was mesmerised by every loop, spin and dash. Sonic Mania is a masterpiece which is successful in every goal it has set out to achieve. It is the Sonic 4 fans have dreamt of for decades. In the same way many DC fans say Batman V Superman is the perfect film for them, there is no better reward for Sonic-ites hungry to see his return to glory. And crucially, at under £20, it is outstanding value for money. Highly, highly recommended. If you owned a Megadrive, this game is essential!