We’re nearing the end of this long winding road known as 2017. In a few hours the year will officially be behind us (well for some of you, it’s already done as I’m writing this up...Happy New Year’s Amy Gilroy!!!). I’ve already got my Top Ten games of the year locked and ready to go for tomorrow so this is the time that I like to give some honorable mention awards out. These aren’t necessarily my #11 through whatever (well some are) but rather games that came out this year that I wanted to sing some special praise for.
I had fun doing it senior superlative style last year, so let’s go with that again. Let’s celebrate some video games!
The “Wow It Was a Great Year for Games When Uncharted Misses the Top Ten” Award goes to…
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
I loved Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. Spending an 8-10 hour adventure with Chloe and Nadine and fleshing out their characters was a ton of fun. I would gladly do it again or enjoy other side stories in that universe. But this year had so much goodness in the way of my Top Ten games that retreading so much of what we got in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End just didn’t wow me enough to make the cut. And the “open world” section winds up really throwing the pacing out the window by leaving it more up to player discretion. The thrust of the main story basically got put on hold while I wandered around and collected a whole lot of tokens. It was an interesting approach but it wound up missing the mark a bit for me.
The “Most Fun You’ll Have Dying Alone Fifty Times in Five Minutes” Award goes to…
Super Rude Bear Resurrection
Super Rude Bear Resurrection was introduced to me via Amy Gilroy (Hi again Amy! Please move to America. I miss you!!!). She told me to check it out at PAX East and I did. When it immediately evoked stressful memories of Super Meat Boy, I was about ready to play a level and bail. But the dev and I had just followed each other on Twitter and that would have been a bit rude. Fortunately, that initial impression was just what he anticipated because the whole point of Super Rude Bear Resurrection is: “yeah, you can play it like Super Meat Boy if you want. But if you’re NOT a crazy person, this game is made with you in mind too.”
See the main catch in this game is: yeah you’re gonna die a lot but each death makes the game a little bit easier. Because the dead bear carcass you left behind when you landed on those spikes is still there. So now you can jump on your past failure and progress a little bit farther through the level before you inevitably die again. There were definitely levels in this game where I just sacrificed dozens of bears to the cause on a single level but I made it through the entire game (compared to barely squeaking through the first world of Super Meat Boy before I noped the hell out of that one).
The “Most Fun You’ll Have Dying WITH FRIENDS Fifty Times in Five Minutes” Award goes to…
This was admittedly also the runner up for the previous award. For the uninitiated, Death Squared is a 1-to-4 player puzzle game where each player controls cube-shaped bots as they maneuver a puzzle test chamber. If you’re playing alone, you control all the bots yourself. But when you’ve got Joey Noelle, Ben Bellevue, and Lauren Wilson drunk and full of pizza on Lauren’s couch, you each control one bot and have to try and coordinate to get the bots on their respective colors. But pesky little things like lasers, spikes, and each other will get in your way and lead to death. A lot. And it will be hilarious. Yeah yeah yeah, solving the puzzles is great too. But watching Joey Noelle and Ben wage their Pineapple Pizza War on the battlefield of Death Squared is pretty damn epic too.
The “This is How You Do Mobile Games, Nintendo!” Award goes to…
It’s a TIE. A Normal Lost Phone and a last-minute addition: Monument Valley 2
Nintendo hasn’t really been able to crack the mobile nut yet. I’m not counting Pokemon since they kind of call their own shots (but even that one fumbled in their opening plays). Super Mario Run disappointed and Miitomo, Fire Emblem Heroes, and now Animal Crossing have all failed to really capture the best parts of their respective franchises in the conversion to mobile.
On the other hand, A Normal Lost Phone recognizes that you’re playing this on a phone and steers headfirst into that. Your phone’s OS is replaced by the game’s and you are basically trying to uncover the mystery of whose phone you’ve picked up. The gameplay is a little voyeuristic as you search through text messages and then emails and calendar appointments and the like but they all work together wonderfully to reveal the story of a young person who is really trying to find who they are and the highs and lows that come with that journey to self-discovery. A wonderful, little story that surprised me by how much ground it covered in only an hour or so.
On the flip side, ustwo released their follow-up to President Underwood’s favorite mobile game Monument Valley, the aptly named Monument Valley 2. I remember it getting stealth released at an Apple event earlier in the year but I didn’t know it had come to Android until basically when I got to work on Thursday, where I promptly downloaded it and completed it over the next 48 hours. Monument Valley 2 expands on the ideas introduced in the original game. You are tasked with guiding your little avatars through a series of optical illusion-based puzzles in beautifully-designed little levels filled with vibrant colors that make every second worthy of being made into a lock screen background.
The “I Don’t Know How But They Actually Managed to Bring Me Back to the Franchise” Award goes to…
Assassin’s Creed: Origins
After hate-finishing Assassin’s Creed Unity, I swore off the series.Black Flag had tricked me into liking it but that was an anomaly in the franchise’s history. But enough people were singing it’s praises, including Youssef Maguid’s personal love of the game, that I decided to give it another shot. And then I proceeded to have a really good time with it for 30-some hours. I haven’t finished the game but I’m a fan of the more RPG-driven direction of the game, even if it is mostly just arbitrarily picking up new weapons from enemies and equipping the ones with the higher number than what I’ve already got. The duo of Bayak and Aya are the most interesting Assassin’s Creed characters in the franchise for me and the Shakespeare-fiend loves how Cleopatra and Caesar feature feature in the story.
The “Dang I Wish I Played More on My PC” Award goes to…
This game immediately had me hooked when I first played it at PAX East. An old-school RPG that plays out via a Windows 98-era OS. You wander the world map in a window. Moving from one location to the next pops up a little loading window that fills in with the distance. Random encounters with enemies behave like spam pop-ups that you need to click around to defeat your enemies. Every item in your Inventory folder is an icon that you can double-click or right-click to open. You can drag and drop items, Ctrl+Shift+click to select multiple items, etc. It’s an ingenius game design element that I adored. I wish the game were more of a straightforward RPG instead of a permadeath roguelike and I wish I was more of a PC guy in general because then I would have put way more time into it than I did.
The “Holy Cow That E3 Presentation Completely Turned Me Around” and “Hey This Is Actually Pretty Good” Awards go to...
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
When details of a Mario and Rabbids crossover game for the Switch leaked, I scoffed and said, “well I’m never going to play that.” But unlike the mug Marty Sliva should have eaten when Ubisoft revealed Beyond Good & Evil 2, I actually ate something...sort of...my words. I ate my words. I don’t know, I was trying to find a way to link Marty eating his mug to me having a 180 on Mario + Rabbids but it sort of got away from me there. Anyway, the point is, a extended look we got of Mario + Rabbids as a basic XCOM clone completely turned me around on the game and it became something I had to play for myself.
The Rabbids are absolutely the worst part about that game and the fact that you have to run through large swaths of nothing to get to the various battle arenas in the game kind of sucks. But apart from that, I had a lot of fun with the game. All of the characters have their own unique traits so you can mix and match them to suit your playstyle (though because it’s Mario + Rabbids and you’ve always got Mario in the party, you are forced to also bring along a Rabbid character - so no 3-person squad with Mario, Luigi, and Peach). The game simplifies the XCOM formula basically making attacks almost always a complete hit or miss option, with nothing in the way of random probabilities based on weapon or distance. But it also adds in some fun traversal aspects like barrelling through your opponents during the move phase in order to do some extra damage and jumping off of your allies for a wider array of movement options. I didn’t have the patience to grind in the later parts of the game for extra experience and weapons so I appreciated the game’s decision to include a prompt at the beginning of each individual battle that allowed for an Easy Mode, that would give you 150% health and weaken the enemies a bit. It was a way better game than I ever could have imagined.
And Finally, the “Yup, They Made Jared from Subway a Boss Fight” Award goes to…
South Park: The Fractured But Whole
Because yup, they made Jared from Subway a boss fight.
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed these fun little awards. I’ll be back tomorrow with the best of the best of 2017.