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…

If you disagree, correct us in the comments on the site or on Twitter @pennilessdads

Top 5 Ways Nintendo Should Use Amiibo

We shouldn’t be surprised really that Nintendo would stand to be the (likely) survivor of the toys to life boom. The vanishing act of more sophisticated NFC toys/games like Disney Infinity disappointed many including us here at pennilessdads. Despite their endurance, Nintendo’s amiibo have been integrated quite passively. Their initial features linked to Smash Bros – training a character and saving to the figure – seem to be a high point. Subsequent games have not gone beyond cosmetic features. One criticism of Nintendo has been the rumours surrounding the Metroid 2 remake on 3DS; pay-walling a hard mode behind amiibo. 

On one hand, amiibo are great figures with fun yet forgettable in-game features whereas on the other, they are lumps of plastic bumping the price of downloadable expansions up. How could Nintendo moving forward integrate amiibo more effectively and make them more attractive to consumers? 

1. Super Mario 64 DS HD Remake

Anyone remember what set this apart from the N64 original? You start the game as Yoshi but you eventually unlock Wario, Luigi and – of course Mario – to explore the castle. Each character had slight variations in power, speed and abilities etc. Your Mario series amiibo could drop the character into the game and give you a fresh perspective on a game which has been explored to the nth degree. Perhaps new challenges could be added for each of the compatible amiibo.

2. Pokemon Stadium Switch Edition

There are already specific Pokemon amiibo but a figure for all however-many-hundred there are is unrealistic to purchase (“challenge accepted!”). Cards could be an option but what we’re interested in is a simple Pokeball or Pokemon trainer amiibo. Train your squad up in the base game, write to the amiibo from it or Pokemon Bank then load up to Stadium on Switch. High pitched “I choose you!” battle cries are optional.

3. Hyrule Warriors 2

Breath of the Wild has changed everything. The next Zelda game is going to have a lot of weight to carry. Why not sidestep the main series and release a follow up to the (excellent) Wii U and (fairly stuttery) 3DS game? Simple concept; when your chosen hero falls in battle, tap an amiibo to replace them. The original game already features multiple Links and a wide supporting cast. The RPG and weapon customisation elements could also be saved to the toy. 

4. Amiitopia

During the 3DS’ unexpected stay of execution, a flurry of games have turned the event into a party instead of a funeral. Miitopia, Metroid and new Pokemon sequels should keep Nintendo’s highly successful console alive for a bit longer. Miitopia – demo available on eshop btw – casts your long forgotten Miis in traditional RPG character types. Simply swap out the eclectic cast of Miis to amiibo. Need a Mage character? <taps Yarn Yoshi amiibo> There we go! Need an evil Overlord? <taps Luigi amiibo> You get the picture! 

5. Nintendoland 2

Instead of a Mario or Toad imitating Mii, tap your amiibo and Chase Mii (Chase Amiibo?) becomes a bit more interesting. Yes, the asymmetrical gameplay of the Wii U version would be compromised but I’m sure Nintendo could find a workaround – like the ‘essential’ second screen in Splatoon. Let every character tap a different amiibo character and off they go. Imagine how much life could be in this game if Bayonetta, Cloud Strife and a Bokoblin were chasing Shovel Knight…Add in new worlds based on the likes of Splatoon and Pokemon etc and a forgotten celebration of Nintendo could return to life.

Honourable mention:

Any multiplayer game needs to have F-Zero GX/AX style functionality. In 2003 – 14 years ago – you could unlock customisable parts for your ship, save your amazing, bespoke creation to a GCN memory card then upload it to an arcade cabinet. Arms, Splatoon and Mario Kart all need this feature as standard.

To conclude, Nintendo has sold nearly 5 million Switch consoles. Amiibo sales in the same time are less than 2 million. Availability has been an issue but the useful-ness of these figures is perhaps are more pressing one. Will amiibo evolve or will they follow LEGO Dimensions and Disney Infinity to the bargain bin? 

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Mario Allstars 2017

How awesome would a Mario collection be? In lieu of Virtual Console, how about sticking everything on one cart? Or as AllStar-style collections?

Super Mario Allstars Vol 1

  1. Mario Bros
  2. Super Mario Bros
  3. Super Mario Bros. Lost Levels
  4. Super Mario Bros 2
  5. Super Mario Bros 3 
  6. Super Mario World
  7. Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario World 2
  8. Super Mario Land
  9. Super Mario Land 2
  10. Super Mario RPG

Super Mario Allstars Vol 2

  1. New Super Mario Bros
  2. New Super Mario Bros 2
  3. New Super Mario Bros Wii
  4. New Super Mario Bros U
  5. Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga
  6. Mario and Luigi Partners in Time
  7. Mario and Luigi Bowser’s Inside Story
  8. Mario and Luigi Dream Team

Super Mario Allstars Vol 3

  1. Paper Mario
  2. Paper Mario the Thousand Year Door
  3. Super Paper Mario
  4. Paper Mario Sticker Star
  5. Paper Mario Colour Splash

Super Mario Allstars Vol 4

  1. Super Mario 64
  2. Super Mario Sunshine
  3. Super Mario Galaxy
  4. Super Mario Galaxy 2
  5. Super Mario 3D Land
  6. Super Mario 3D World

Each game in HD with leaderboard, online multiplayer (when applicable) please! 

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. 

Speeding Towards Adventure

First of all, kudos if you get the article title. 2017 is amongst other things the return of the mascot platformer/collect-a-thon. Yooka-Laylee, Crash Bandicoot and Mario Odyssey make up a holy trinity of games which hark back to the foggy days of PS1, Dreamcast and N64. In between these releases comes a double-edged spike ball of fury (furry?); Sonic. Could this finally be the return to glory for one of gaming’s original trend setters?

In the 90s, 2D Sonic arguably peaked with Sonic 3 & Knuckles – the ‘complete’ version of Sonic 3. The game refined power ups and level variety whilst having the best balance of furry sidekicks which would in later games get out of hand. The transition to 3D was as awkward as a human-hedgehog romantic relationship. Sonic Adventure wasn’t Mario 64 quality and is difficult to play in 2017 due to some extremely clunky 3D work. However, it was fun and had some memorable, iconic moments. The 3D games got progressively worse – always trying to shoehorn in alternate mechanics which were at odds with Sonic’s simplicity. No wonder Knuckles always loses the Master Emerald if all he has is that annoying blinking radar thing. 

Over in 2D Sonic world, there has been more consistent content. Sonic Advance and its sequels were good and were followed up with strong Nintendo DS games. However, monstrosities like Sonic 4 (both episodes) and the first Sonic Boom smart like spring jumping straight into a Buzz Bomber. 

Back in 3D land, things got weirder. Sonic became a werewolf, went to Camelot and vastly expanded his band of forgettable sidekicks. For the record, the Chaotix crew is where the line should be. Shadow, Silver and any other X the Z diluted the already diminished quality of the series. False dawns like Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 rubbed salt in the wounds of SEGA fans who had already begun to accept the seemingly inevitable. Occasionally a game gave a speck of hope. Sonic and the Secret Rings on Wii begun the ‘rollercoaster’ style game style and was built on in Colors and Sonic Unleashed. An uneasy balance was finally found in Sonic Generations which reimagined stages from all eras of Sonic, mixing 2D and 3D gameplay. It was great fun and most importantly wasn’t a chore to play. All non-Sonic shenanigans were optional. This all brings us to 2017’s offerings…

By the year’s end, we should have 2D retro-inspired sequel to Sonic 3 & Knuckles; Sonic Mania as well as Generations-esque Sonic Forces. Between the two games there looks to be something for everyone and – hopefully – games which finally restore the honour to Sonic’s name. Like Mario, it was once a symbol of quality and you knew exactly what you were going to get. The faux 16-bit graphics of Mania will draw the attention of lapsed gamer 30-somethings who will instantly recognise the blue blur. Plus for a sub-£20 price tag it is a no brainier purchase. Sonic Forces aims to build on Generations’ more consistent 3D environments and deliver a 2017 Sonic adventure. Interestingly the ‘build your own sidekick’ feature seems like a master stroke. No one can moan of the suspect supporting cast if they are user created. It gives big kids like us the chance to recreate great characters like those from the UK’s now defunct Sonic the Comic or more recent fan-favourites like Big the Cat. 

We wait with bated breath to see if these two Sonics can deliver after 20 years of false starts. As the Sonic Adventure theme says: 

‘Gotta open your heart!

Can’t hold on much longer!

But I will never let go!

I know it’s a one way track!

Tell me now how long this’ll last!

I’m not gonna think this way!

Nor will I count on others!

Close my eyes and feel it burn!

Now I see what I gotta do!

Open your heart, it’s gonna be alright! Yeah!’

We hope! 

N64 Classic?

Wow! A flurry of trademarks this week has resulted in soft-to-firm evidence of Nintendo’s follow up to the as-yet unreleased SNES Classic; the N64 Classic. Despite popular opinion the next venture would be a Gameboy Classic, the sole, mainstream 64-bit console (Jaguar 64 ignored) looks like it is next to appear in reduced numbers and inflated prices on eBay. But what will we get in the box?

Launching last holiday season, the NES Classic launched with 30 preloaded games and the imminent SNES Classic will have 30% less. Let’s apply that formula to the potential N64 Classic. 30% less games would – when rounded up – give us 15 N64 games. Here we go:

  1. Super Mario 64
  2. Mario Kart 64
  3. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
  4. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
  5. 1080 Snowboarding
  6. Wave Race 64
  7. F-Zero X
  8. Mario Party
  9. Mario Tennis
  10. Mario Golf
  11. Pokemon Snap
  12. Star Fox/Layla’s Wars 64
  13. Smash Bros
  14. Donkey Kong 64
  15. Paper Mario

Honourable mentions:

  • Doom 64
  • Beetle Adventure Racing
  • Turok 1&2
  • Pokemon Stadium
  • Pokemon Puzzle League
  • Pilotwings 64
  • Yoshi’s Story

A huge issue with this console is a large chunk of its AAA quality back-catalogue was made by Rare – now owned by Microsoft. Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark and Blast Corps have already been retro-bundled in Rare Replay on Xbox One. So all those games are out. There are also a number of games in limbo like Goldeneye or Diddy Kong Racing. DKR was ported – by Nintendo to DS but ripped out Rare’s characters. Surely they wouldn’t do the same to the original? 

Wishful thinking:

  • Banjo-Kazooie 
  • Banjo-Tooie
  • DKR
  • Goldeneye
  • Perfect Dark
  • Jet Force Gemini
  • Blast Corps
  • Killer Instinct Gold

Outside bets:

  • Quake 2
  • Star Wars Episode 1: Racer
  • Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
  • Body Harvest
  • Earthworm Jim 64
  • Mortal Kombat 4
  • Snowboard Kids
  • Top Gear Overdrive
  • Superman 64…

The one nugget of hope here is Star Fox 2 on the SNES Classic. If that game can see the light of day then Goldeneye etc may have a chance. 

Re-reviewing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

On March 3rd, many of my (non-dad) friends received their shiny new Switches and began the adventure of a lifetime exploring the vast, open expanse of Hyrule. Back over here, I eagerly popped in my disc into my tired, forgotten Wii U. 85 hours later, the game was ‘completed’ (all 4 divine beasts, Master Sword, all memories and Ganon defeated). The game went on eBay, giving me a net spend of £7 for a game I had basically had an affair with for 5 weeks. However fast forward to July and my shiny new Switch needed a game meatier than Fast Racing RMX (which is awesome btw). It was time to return to wake Link up again but could a second play through – so close to my 1st one – be as enjoyable?

After an hour of play, the first thing which stood out was just how hard the opening is. Enemies which I had got used to being one hit Master Sword fodder were giving me a real run for my money. I was REALLY missing my 3 wheel stamina capabilities from my Wii U save file too. Secondly, despite telling myself there was no visible difference in graphics between the two versions, I was wrong. It is worth noting there have been several patch updates in between my playthroughs so the Wii U may have got better but this is what I found. The frame rate and slow down is better on Switch. Busy areas like Kakariko Village and Kokiri Forest ran smoother although the Switch version does seem to have more pop in. The resolution too is visibly crisper on Nintendo’s newest console. Anyway, back to gameplay…

When playing the Wii U version it was a strange sensation. Any moment not playing the game, I was thinking about it. For 20 days in a row I sunk more than an hour an evening into it; as well as ridiculous amounts of time at weekends. Although not dragging me into it’s web of addictiveness this time, playing the game again (65 hours in) is a joy. Upon leaving the Great Plateau, disregarding any sense of direction, I jumped into the unknown – just like I had on Wii U. Despite spending 85 hours previously exploring Hyrule, I found myself finding new areas and secrets which had eluded me before. I was certain I’d spoken to every side quest NPC at the stables but I obviously missed some (a few actually). Obviously the main spine was of the game has remained familiar and has not yielded any surprises but like the best of its peers like Skyrim or the Witcher 3, the weirdest, world-building quests remain off the beaten path in the side quests. Who knew that the largest, most immersive fantasy world ever created was actually even bigger? If you think you’ve seen everything the game has to offer, I’d recommend gliding back in to dig a bit deeper. This is before we’ve even begun taking advantage of the first expansion releasing last week. Many years ago, I would play through Ocarina of Time annually – enjoying every minute. The biggest compliment I can pay this game is it feels the same way.