A look back at a memorable year of gaming
With the annual Game Awards quickly approaching, several games, developers, and influencers are set to stake a claim on what are deemed the industry’s most official awards. Expectedly, many news outlets, publications, and individual gamers themselves are following suit and offering up reflections on the past 12 months spent in the gaming world. As a collection of gamers ourselves — coming together from vastly different backgrounds and experiences — we thought it good to express our own opinions on the year that was, each with our own selections for the exclusive “Game of the Year” title.
Joe Molohon: Super Mario Odyssey
What I think Super Mario Odyssey captures best of the platformer genre is a sense of freedom. Beyond the transcendent feeling of traversing great distances in leaps and bounds, Mario’s latest grand adventure does a great job of enabling its players to interact with the environment on their own terms. Any Power Moon is up for the taking or the leaving and any one problem has many solutions. There is no right or wrong way through the obstacles of Odyssey—only your way and another’s.
Despite being easy enough for newcomers to complete its story, Odyssey also rewards high-level play—with secret tips and tricks embedded within the system. The game goes much further beyond what is required for completion, and dedication is with more diligently-crafted content. Of the game’s 999 Moons only 150 are needed to complete the game, with several milestones past this number for those who want more. And the more it grants is always so far beyond anything I’ve seen in a platformer before; a level of charm and craft rarely touched by games of any genre.
Devin Cazin: NieR: Automata
Stemming from the evil genius of creator Yoko Taro, NieR: Automata is my choice for Game of the Year because of the various angles it comes at the player from — and how expertly tuned each seems to be. Living out the tales of YoRHa androids 2B, 9S, and A2, I was hit with a memorable OST, fantastically gritty environment and character design, and expressive voice delivery in both English and Japanese options. From a gameplay perspective, NieR offers some of the most natural feeling open world exploration and platforming that I’ve come across, seamlessly mixing crisp combat and movement with RPG elements that are complex yet simple enough to create a customizable experience for each player. Even when the game decides to go top-down or auto-scroller for designated SHMUP sections, Platinum Games managed to make the title feel like the top of the class for each of its several genres at play. Mixed together, all of these elements act as complimentary set pieces to plot and character development that I feel are not just the main attractions of NieR, but shining examples of what storytelling in gaming should be comprised of in the current era. Lucky for us, NieR is just generous/crazy enough to grant that blessing to us not once or twice, but three wholesome times in a single package.
Daniel Volovets: SteamWorld Dig 2
I realize that this is a slightly unconventional pick, but since most lists will be populated by the usual suspects of Mario and Zelda, I’d like to pick a critically well-received game that’s being criminally overlooked for Game of the Year: SteamWorld Dig 2. Buying the first game on a whim on the PlayStation Vita and then beating it in only a few sessions, I played obsessively as the game enticed me to just go a little further. The sequel continues in this vein, perfecting an original take on the Metroidvania formula with incredible level design and impressive production values, especially considering the small size of the development team. The sense of progression is right up there with the best Metroid games, with the protagonist unlocking new abilities until you become a master of the underground — running, jumping, and jetrocketting your way through increasingly ominous caves.
The gameplay “hook” is extremely satisfying, as the game challenges you to keep going and collect as much treasure as possible in one go, thereby maximizing the sales transaction you make upon your return to the top and, in turn, netting you quicker upgrades. However, this introduces the risk of losing a big chunk of materials if you meet your demise at the hands of the many creatures that live in the depths of this lovingly crafted world. Oh, and did I mention that the title is only $19.99 MSRP? If you’ve had your fill of the other GoTY candidates, please consider rewarding the talented developers over at Image and Form Games and pick up a copy of SteamWorld Dig 2.
Thomas Cypress: Horizon Zero Dawn
Upon considering my pick of the litter for Game of the Year, I can safely say that I did not settle. Horizon Zero Dawn is superlatively stunning as well as being all-around good fun. While not much of a graphical snob, I must say that Sony original IP managed to impressed me immediately. Designed in a remarkably realistic fashion, each character has slight defects, quirks, nervous ticks, and personality that can be picked up on. The art style alone merits huge appreciation because it goes beyond the characters into the variety of exciting biomes — as well as to a range of enemies. Touching on gameplay, of the handful of 2017 games I’ve played, it has by far the only combat system I’ve really enjoyed. When playing on hard mode, Horizon Zero Dawn throws seriously difficult encounters at the player which will often require adjustment of strategy. The game delivers exactly what it showed in its trailers, which is exciting combat against robot dinosaurs. Agenda or no, I am also excited to see a different kind of female character portrayed who isn’t overly sexualized, and who gets to be the lead character of the story. Celebrating women is a thematic choice that the developers seem to have went with, and I respect their vision and enjoyed it.
In terms of story, much is told through large info dumps and hologram monologues. While there are many alternative ways to tell the story in a dynamic way, these long and sometimes tedious expository monologues were balanced out by the overall strength of other elements of the title. Although the exploration falls far short of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild — which set a brand new standard for exploration in RPGs — Aloy’s adventure offers innovative action that surpasses even the fabled Hero of Time. Akin to Zelda is the game’s similar utilization the “longnecks”, a type of robot dinosaur resembling the Apatosaurus. These are among the largest robot dinosaurs in the game and they are totally static, walking along a set path for you to climb aboard. They function basically as the towers do in Breath of the Wild, but with an added dynamic of movement and life involved.
Daniel Hein: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Not since Super Mario 64 way back in 1996 has Nintendo dazzled us with a launch title like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The latest installment in the Zelda series blew the minds of veteran players and newbies alike, with its breathtaking open world environment, refined gameplay, and humongous scale. The freedom that Nintendo gives you in terms of what you’re allowed to do once you enter the world is unreal – you could spend hour upon hour getting every single upgrade in the game, or just go straight to the final boss and get your ass kicked. It’s all up to you as the player.
But BOTW is more than just a fantastic game – it’s also one of the best Zelda games released to date. The open world of BOTW is complemented by both an overhauled inventory system and weapons breaking after some use. The graphics use a similar style to Skyward Sword but polish it in just the right ways. The story, though nowhere near a grand epic, is quite a step forward for the series, with actual voice acting in cutscenes and a more fleshed-out relationship between this game’s Link and Zelda. Breath of the Wild is not just fantastic as a video game in general, but it indicates a bright future for the Zelda series and more wonderful adventures to come.
Mitch King: Cuphead
Being the token indie representative of this site, it should come as no surprise that my Game of the Year honor goes to none other than the indie-darling, Cuphead. The retro style run-and-gun is the first game made by StudioMDHR and was one of the most highly anticipated titles overall since its initial unveiling at E3 2014. The PC and Xbox One title boasts an incredible hand drawn art style that flawlessly captures the essence of a 1930’s cartoon, all while looking incredible in 4K resolution. On top of both art and sound elements doing an incredible job of making the game feel like an old Disney short, the gameplay is truly something remarkable.
Although the game has a shorter completion time than most games, the actual meat of the sometimes rage-inducing project makes it stand out. Cuphead plays as a 2D action arena game where quick reflexes and learning boss patterns is everything. Each and every boss in the game evolves as the battle plays out. Every single fight is punishing to complete, yet feels oh so rewarding upon completion. To share in the pain, there is also an option for local co-op which is equally as good — and as memorable — as the single player experience. If StudioMDHR manages to give us one of these every 5 or so years, then the indie video game scene is in for a real treat with this new and upcoming developer.